Jace Jung settles at West Michigan as Tigers prepare for a jolt

Detroit News

There were no news bulletins issued. No surprises registered.

Jace Jung was doing precisely what the Tigers had expected when they chose him last month, 12 picks deep into the 2022 MLB Draft.

He was hitting the ball, hard for the most part, in his last six games for the West Michigan Whitecaps: 8-for-22, with four walks tossed in, as well his first professional home run — a first-inning drive Saturday beyond the right-field wall at LMCU Ballpark.

Jung bats left-handed, plays second base, and represents a frenzied move by the Tigers to bring offense into their organizational picture. Preferably, in a hurry.

“Eighteen games — that’s a big enough sample size to look at some things,” said CJ Wamsley, who is hitting coach for the high-A Whitecaps. “And yet, it doesn’t feel like he’s been here only 18 games.

“It’s like when we’re talking and I’ll say, ‘Remember, in spring training’ — and then it’s, ‘Oh yeah, you weren’t in spring training.’”

Well, not with the Tigers. Jung last spring was playing games at Texas Tech and on his way to another trophy season for the Red Raiders.

Wamsley says the temptation to think of Jung as a kind of farm-system old-timer has to do with Jung’s baseball acumen.

He has a seasoned approach for a guy who has been playing professionally not even a month.

“He has a sense already for what they (pitchers) are going to do to me, and this is what I’m going to do to them,” Wamsley said, sizing up the way in which a man 6-foot, 205 pounds, attacks on offense. “He has the ability to think-through an at-bat before it happens.

“He knows if there’s a runner on second, in scoring position, they’re probably going to pitch me (Jung) a little differently than if there’s no one on base.

“This is all part of getting used to professional baseball — the need for routines, figuring out the stuff you have to learn. But the thing for me, his comfortability at the plate is phenomenal.”

Basic info about Jung by now has been processed by most Tigers students.

His older brother, Josh, is a blue-chipper on the Rangers farm, now recovering from shoulder surgery.

Jace’s distinction is his left-handed swing: bat flat, almost scraping his left shoulder blade. A favored description is “unorthodox.” Big-league scouts didn’t seem to care. They all agreed Jung was possible top-10 timber in last month’s draft. The Tigers got him at No. 12 overall.

Wamsley repeats that word “comfortability” when talking about Jung’s swing. The Tigers aren’t planning on doing any dramatic tinkering.

“As long as there are reasons for doing what you do,” Wamsley said, explaining that he and the Tigers’ development heads were planning no heavy tweaks. “Whatever the plan for a particular (pitching) attack, he’s been able to do that.

“He’s hit pitches in a couple of different zones, and he’s hit different pitch-types. For me, it’s important for a hitter to do your thing, if that’s his level of comfortability.”

One possible knock MLB scouts had as Jung approached draft day is how his swing-style would hold up against inside velocity. So far, no issues at West Michigan.

“He’s been seeing some pretty good fastballs,” Wamsley said. “Look at that homer he hit (Saturday night). That was a fastball in from a guy (Richard Gallardo) who was throwing 94 to 97.

“He’s seeing stuff now several times a week that’s up to 99. Not that he hasn’t seen it before, but what you see is that every at-bat he’s adding to his mental Rolodex. Every game, you see some adjustments from the first couple of games.

“The other night, similar situation (to Saturday): 1 and 2 count, here it comes at 96, and he put a pretty good swing on it, and hit the ball very well for an out. But that’s the thing for me. Every at-bat, he’s been working to shrink whatever minor holes he has. And that’s one of the best places you can be with a hitter.”

Wamsley says he already can see that pitchers don’t necessarily know what to throw Jung in a particular count.

It’s because he played against sophisticated pitching at Texas Tech and, last summer, at the Cape Cod League. And, even more fundamentally, because the man can swing a bat.

“They’ve tried,” Wamsley said. “Change-up away — he hits a line drive to right-center. Slider — doesn’t matter. He seems always to put himself in such good position.

“And he has a pretty good understanding of the strike zone, and of his strike zone. He has discipline: Can I hit this ball really, really hard? If the answer is yes, he hits strikes hard.

“You’re looking at a pretty solid hitter.”

Jung has another month of high-A pitching to put into that mental archive. Next spring, it’s assumed he will be ticketed in April for Double-A Erie.

Should the same patterns continue, the Tigers, who drafted Jung as a means to help make an offense playoff-grade, will welcome him to Detroit.

And that promotion, too, will rank as anything but unanticipated news.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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