The odd couple is back together again.
But Peyton Graham, the Tigers’ second-round pick, is reserved and quiet, a young man of so few words that he’s hard to figure out at times. Some scouts couldn’t seem to get a handle on him before the draft.
“Peyton is a really quiet guy,” Ray Graham, Peyton’s father, said. “He’s hard to explain. Some people get him, some people don’t. He’s just to himself. Not a flashy kid. Kind of a Derek Jeter-type guy.”
Jung gets him.
“I just texted him and said, ‘What’s up, teammate?’ ” Jung said Sunday night, after he was taken No. 12 overall.
Jace and Peyton became close friends in 2020 while playing summer ball in Santa Barbara, California. They stayed with the same host family, sharing a bedroom.
“They are different on everything,” Christina Songer, who was their host mother, said.
Not just their personalities. It was everything about them.
“Jace is really picky about food, so Peyton would come up with things for us to try to see if Jace would actually try it or not,” she said. “Peyton will eat everything.”
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But there’s one thing Jung will try — chocolate cake. Especially if he’s on a hitting streak.
“My birthday is in the summer, and we kind of have a team party,” Songer said. “After that, Jace ate chocolate cake every day because he was on a hitting spree, so anytime he sees chocolate cake, he sends me a picture.”
Jung and Graham shared a bedroom on the second floor of Songer’s house.
“He’s a great roommate,” Graham said. “We were five feet apart, so I mean, it’s hard to be a bad roommate when you don’t have much personal space. He was a great guy.”
Jung, a second baseman, and Graham, a shortstop, have already developed a chemistry, twisting double plays.
“They get along really good,” Ray Graham said. “They are going to play together really well. I hope they put them together in Florida.”
There are several hilarious stories about these two and the summer of 2020.
But the best story is the infamous “car story.”
Jung and Graham weren’t old enough to rent a car, so Songer offered to let them drive her Nissan Scion.
Only there was a problem.
It’s a stick shift, and neither player knew how to drive it.
“So we had driving lessons,” Ray Graham said. “We drove around a mall parking lot. We drove around a cemetery. But all of the stoplights are on hills, and it was awful.”
They couldn’t get the hang of it and were grinding the clutch.
“Burning the clutch up maybe,” Ray said, laughing.
“People were honking at them,” Songer said. “The last straw was the old lady yelling at them: ‘Learn how to drive!’ ”
‘He just has a passion for the game’
Jace and Peyton played on the Santa Barbara Foresters, a team coached by Bill Pinter.
“The Tigers got solid, salt of the earth, locked-in baseball players,” Pinter said.
Pinter, a scout for the New York Yankees, has coached more than 40 players who have reached the major leagues and 300 who have played in the minors. But he’s never met a player quite like Jung.
“I’ve been doing this 27 years, and I’ve never had a player that I bonded with more than Jace Jung — ever,” Pinter said. “Jace just plays for the love of the game. He has an unyielding passion for competition. I had his brother Josh and they are as different as night and day. Jace has an engaging personality. He has fun playing the game and he’s a student of the game.”
Pinter would hold extra practice in the morning and Jung would always show up and spent the time working on his defense, which is his biggest weaknesses.
“He had to work on his defense because he was born to hit,” Pinter said. “He worked on it every day and he just has a passion for the game. He’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever had. He uses the whole field. He has an advanced ability to see spin. He doesn’t run well but he makes up for it with his instincts.”
A six-tool player
Then, there is Graham — the exact opposite, as always.
He seems to be a natural at everything he does.
“When he was T-ball age, I went and bought a net, a bat, his glove, a tee and a bucket of balls,” Ray Graham, who played small-college baseball, said. “We went in our backyard and that day he started swinging. His swing was pretty from the right side as the left side.”
Graham has basically had the same swing ever since. Never had a hitting coach. Never really tweaked it.
But he only had one college scholarship offer.
“To say Peyton is a late bloomer is an understatement,” Tracy Wood, his high school coach, said. “I just personally think he’ll end up at third base in the big leagues. But he can go play shortstop there, too. He’s athletic enough to do it.”
Graham is blessed with five tools. Six if you count his attitude.
“He’s a really good kid,” Jim Miller, his assistant high school coach, said. “He’s a model of what you want your baseball players to be like. He works hard. He’s gonna do what it takes to win. And, you know, he’s a real quiet kid.”
Yes, we’ve heard.
In 2020, while playing on a Santa Barbara team loaded with future draft picks, “Peyton was the most tooled up of all of them,” Pinter said. “He is a plus runner. He’s got a plus arm. He’s got plus hands. I don’t know if he stays at shortstop but he’s a plus defender. The only thing he doesn’t have is — he needs some freakin’ weight.”
Ah yes, the weight issue.
Peyton is listed at 171 pounds in the Oklahoma media guide.
“I’m really shocked at how concerned everybody is about him being skinny,” his father said. “To me, the Detroit Tigers just landed the best player that they could have asked for. I’m shocked he went that far down. But at the same time, I’m like, he’s been an underdog all his life. Kudos to Detroit for seeing it. So here we are. Let’s just be the underdog again.”
While Graham doesn’t have size, he has incredibly strong hands. He has tested off the charts in grip strength.
“Every time he did it, people would think it was broken,” his father said. “He’s a scrawny kid but his grip is stronger than everybody.”
He expected to be drafted in the 30s. Maybe, the 40s. But some teams passed on him because of his frame. And maybe, some passed on him because he’s so darn quiet and they could never figure him out.
So the Tigers getting him at No. 51 was surprising.
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“I’m blown away that this kid lasted to this point in the draft,” Dan O’Dowd, a former GM who is now an analyst, said on MLB Network. “I think he stays at shortstop. Number two, I get the whole frame thing. But there’s strength in this body. Right now, he’s got really strong hands to hit. He drives the ball all over the ballpark. He’s a plus runner. If he stays at shortstop, he has a chance to be an All-Star player.”
The Tigers found something rare in the same draft: a pair of middle infielders who hit with power.
But they got something else. Just two good kids, who both stay in touch with Songer.
“I would take both of them back in a heartbeat,” she said. “They call me mom. They stay in touch on birthdays, Christmas, all of that. They are both really great guys.”
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.