It can go unnoticed, a rookie minor-leaguer’s progress.
Especially when he is 14 months out of high school.
Izaac Pacheco’s first year of professional baseball has been stunningly strong, given that, yes, he is 19 and only a year from leaving home and his prep days at Friendswood, Texas.
Pacheco plays third base (mostly), bats left-handed, and was the Tigers’ second-round pick in 2021. He rolled Sunday into TigerTown’s parking lot with a .267 batting average, .342 on-base mark, eight home runs, and a .758 OPS.
He has been remarkably consistent playing for the low Single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers when just as easily he could have spent the summer in TigerTown’s adjacent lots playing in the entry-level Florida Complex League.
“Great kid, obviously still learning the game and learning how to play third base,” said Andrew Graham, the Flying Tigers manager who has been helping shift a high-school shortstop to a difficult left-side post. “He’s made great adjustments there.”
And with the bat.
Ryan Garko, who heads Tigers player development, said Pacheco joined his tutors last offseason in analyzing why he struck out too often against last summer’s FCL pitchers (43 times in 106 at-bats). He knew he needed to better-handle high fastballs.
“So, he made some changes to his swing that we asked him to make, then worked really hard,” Garko said. “We challenged him with the assignment — just knowing where the top of the zone was and how to cover velocity there.
“He had a really good offseason. And he’s had a great year. Very consistent. And his defense has been really good, even at shortstop (18 games). We’re still going to keep him there some of the time.”
Graham agrees with Garko that, even if a game or two’s at-bats have been duds, Pacheco has stayed strong in the field. And in his overall baseball psyche.
“He’s done a good job all year in controlling the (strike) zone,” Graham said Sunday. “He’s starting to show some fatigue right now, as these kids do in their first full year in the Florida State League (ballparks), with the heat. But he’s definitely done a nice job in executing the overall plan.”
Garko agrees also that first summers in Florida can be tough when pro ball demands an everyday regimen. Thus, he said, Pacheco will be getting some occasional rest.
It’s his first year, after all. He is 19. The Tigers haven’t said as much to Pacheco, but he’ll be allowed to take his time.
What to do with Carpenter
The Tigers cannot sneeze at those Kerry Carpenter numbers. They cannot pretend that what he did at Double-A Erie (.304 in 63 games, 22 homers, 1.005 OPS) earlier this year is not now being replicated at Triple-A Toledo (25 games, .326, five homers, 1.025 OPS).
Nor, for a moment, do they look askance at a 24-year-old, left-handed slugger who has had a bonanza of a 2022 season at two elevated Tigers farm stops.
“The numbers are what they are — 1.000 OPS at both spots,” Garko said. “He’s cutting his strikeouts down (11 in 70 at-bats for July entering Sunday’s game) and controlling the zone, and still hitting for power.
“Even with all the shifts in Triple A, he’s still getting his hits.
“I think Kerry has put himself in position where we all need to start talking about where he could fit in.”
There, of course, is the question. Carpenter, who was a 19th-round pick from Virginia Tech in 2019, ostensibly is an outfielder. But he is a hitter, not a defender. And, at least for another year, there is a designated hitter in Detroit by the name of Miguel Cabrera.
“He just needs to continue to get better,” Garko said of Carpenter. “The game speeds up. There are some bumps, but Lloyd (McClendon, Toledo manager) and his group are working with him every day.
“This is just finishing school for him at Triple A. We’re working really hard on him, making him a serviceable outfielder in the corners who can make routine plays.
“He’s a really special prospect.”
Perspective on Perez
His back tightened up during a game last week, which is why Erie second baseman Wenceel Perez is on the seven-day injured list.
But it is anticipated he will return, quickly, as will his brand of offense, which like Carpenter’s, has gotten even better after his upgrade from a lower minor-league level.
Perez, in 30 games since being bumped to Erie, is batting .319, with four homers, a .394 on-base average, and .978 OPS. He is 22 and switch-hits.
“As a hitter, he understands what to do with the barrel,” Garko said. “It’s a real hit-tool and he can hit from both sides of the plate.
“He hits fastballs, he takes walks, he gets doubles, he has power. He gives you four good at-bats every night.”
This would qualify as good news, in sudden abundance, for the Tigers. They are on verge perhaps of bringing to Detroit a collection of young infielders (Ryan Kreidler, Colt Keith, Jace Jung, Perez, etc.) and letting them sort out a simple math problem they’d love to confront:
Who makes it, and who forces trading a potentially valuable chip?
Meanwhile, at Lakeland
It isn’t only at Erie and Toledo where infielders are beginning to spur visions of honest-to-MLB talent arriving at Comerica Park.
Pacheco, of course, is thriving there as a teenager, with power-hitting shortstop Manuel Sequera (15 homers) also raising heartbeats — if he can quit chasing pitches.
And then there is Cristian Santana, 18, who the Tigers two years ago signed for more money ($2.95 million) than they ever have paid an international teen.
Santana lost much of the early season to an oblique injury but has settled in at Single-A Lakeland, as Saturday’s game made clear. Santana, a 6-foot shortstop and right-handed batter, slammed a home run and a double.
In 17 games in July, Santana is batting .286, with a .416 on-base mark and .860 OPS.
“He might be the best one of the lot,” said Graham, which would square with Tigers’ scouts visions when Santana was signed out of the Dominican Republic. “He’s the most pure infielder of the group, with a better arm.
“I think he can be a big-league shortstop.”
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.