How Detroit Tigers’ Kerry Carpenter got the call up: A look at what ‘clicked’ and when

Detroit Free Press

Kerry Carpenter sat in the Detroit Tigers‘ dugout Wednesday afternoon. He spoke about the death of his father, Ken, in May 2020, his faith as a Christian and his incredible journey to the big leagues.

Minutes later, the Tigers fired general manager Al Avila amid his seventh season at the helm of the organization. Suddenly, Carpenter’s MLB debut was no longer the biggest news of the day, though he received a shoutout from owner Christopher Ilitch.

Carpenter went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss. The designated hitter finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Thursday’s 4-3 loss, then got his first career hit, a ninth-inning single, and a walk and a strikeout in Saturday’s 6-4 loss.

He singled off Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks in the ninth inning for the first hit of his MLB career.

“We talk about wanting guys to earn it,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s done it. Just look at the back of the baseball card and look at what he’s done, to go from repeating Double-A to pushing his way to Triple-A and then continuing to perform and hit.”

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Carpenter smacked 22 home runs over 63 games for Double-A Erie and earned a June 25 promotion. The 24-year-old, who turns 25 on Sept. 2, didn’t miss a beat, hammering eight homers for Triple-A Toledo over 34 games.

Carpenter, to go with his career-changing power surge, posted a .313 batting average, .380 on-base percentage and 1.025 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 97 games between the two affiliates.

“The biggest difference for me is the ability to adjust to any pitch,” Carpenter said. “That’s what the swing change really helped me with, to where I can be on the fastball, see the ball out of the hand and adjust if I have to.”

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The Tigers drafted Carpenter in the 19th round (No. 562 overall) in 2019 out of Virginia Tech. He is the lowest-selected position player from his class to reach the big leagues. The only player drafted after Carpenter in 2019 to make his MLB debut: Tigers right-hander Beau Brieske (27th round, No. 802 overall).

“I went in the 19th round because I didn’t play very good at Virginia Tech,” Carpenter said. “I could have gone higher the year before, but I turned it down and didn’t perform that well, so they picked me exactly where I should have gone. I always knew I was better than that.”

Only six players, including Carpenter and Brieske, selected beyond the fifth round in 2019 have advanced to baseball’s highest level.

“They don’t pave that road the same as they do for higher draft picks,” Hinch said. “It’s hard to get to the big leagues.”

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Before this season, Carpenter traveled to St. Peters, Missouri, and visited personal hitting coach Richard Schenck for the first time. Teammate Jacob Robson, who made his MLB debut in 2021, suggested the trip.

Everything clicked May 15.

Carpenter, playing for Double-A Erie, faced left-hander Logan Allen, a second-round pick in 2020 by the Cleveland Guardians. He struck out swinging in his first plate appearance but crushed a two-strike slider for a three-run homer in his second at-bat.

“I always knew it was a possibility and thought it was a possibility,” Carpenter said. “At some points, it was a struggle. I remember the day, it was in Akron in May. I felt like I could hit anything. I was like, ‘If I can keep this feeling, keep it going, I might be able to play in the big leagues this year.’ … It clicked for me, and I never looked back.”

Several friends and family members made the trip to Comerica Park Wednesday for Carpenter’s MLB debut, including his brother and sister. His father, though, did not. He died from a rare form of liver cancer at age 62.

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Hinch, whose father died when he was 18, sat down with Carpenter in his office before Wednesday’s game.

“Neither of our fathers are going to get to see a major league debut, but that doesn’t mean he’s not proud,” Hinch said. “I’m rooting hard for this kid. It means something to everybody, but for those that didn’t have it paved perfectly, it’s pretty cool.”

Hinch and Carpenter connected over the loss of their fathers at a young age.

Then, they took the field together as Tigers.

“I’m just putting my trust in God,” Carpenter said. “He’s been my strength this whole season.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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