Tigers prospect brings power bat to Detroit

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

What does it feel like for a hitter when he gets on a tear like Kerry Carpenter did in May, when he hit .411 with 13 home runs in 24 games for Double-A Erie?  

“It doesn’t matter really what’s being thrown at me,” Carpenter described the feeling back in June. “If I’m right with my approach and right with my swing, I feel like I could hit anything. It’s a good feeling.”

What is it like when that tear sends you on a path that carries you to the big leagues a few months later? We began to find out Wednesday, when Carpenter made his Major League debut. He went 0-for-4 vs. the Guardians.

All summer, people in and around the Tigers organization have wondered whether Carpenter’s power can play in the big leagues. As chronicled here, Carpenter took a chance on his career by undergoing a swing change late in the offseason in search for more power, a change that didn’t pay off until a month into the Minor League season.

With the exception of some mini-slumps here and there, Carpenter hasn’t stopped hitting. Even when he hit one homer in his first 14 games at Triple-A Toledo, he hit .386 with seven doubles. Once Carpenter adjusted to International League pitching, he homered in seven of his next 19 games. Between eight homers in Toledo and 22 in Erie, he was the first player in any farm system to 30 homers this season.

The Tigers have seen power like this in their system struggle to translate to the big leagues. Steven Moya hit 35 homers with Erie in 2014, then back-to-back 20-homer seasons for Toledo, but he could never carry it to the Majors. Same for former first-round pick Christin Stewart, who hit 83 homers over a three-year stretch in the Minors, but then hit just 15 homers over 157 games with Detroit. Brad Eldred hit 13 homers in his first 20 games at Triple-A in 2012 before getting a call to the Majors, where he played five games with Detroit, before being sent back. He ended up with 24 homers for Toledo before enjoying a successful career in Japan.

A big advantage for Carpenter is that he hasn’t sacrificed batting average (.304 with Erie, .331 with Toledo) or strikeouts (27.5 percent in Double-A, 12.3 percent in Triple-A) to get to his power. He posted as many walks as strikeouts with Toledo — 17 each. He also has shown the ability to adjust to how pitchers are attacking him, able to catch up with fastballs and wait on breaking pitchers alike.

If there’s any time for the Tigers to find out, it’s now. They’re playing out the final two months of a disappointing season. They just parted ways with general manager Al Avila. They need to figure out what offensive potential they have in their system before they look to bolster their lineup this offseason. Detroit has at-bats available at designated hitter with Miguel Cabrera limited by knee trouble, and at-bats in the outfield corners with Robbie Grossman traded to Atlanta and Austin Meadows just starting another rehab assignment with Toledo.

It’s time for the Tigers to figure out what they have. Carpenter is a big part of it. So is Ryan Kreidler, who is playing all over the infield for Toledo in preparation for his expected callup. Joey Wentz is likely to return later this month. Jake Rogers should be back behind the plate sometime in September if his rehab goes as hoped.

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