Detroit Tigers’ top 2022 pick Jace Jung adjusting to High-A: ‘The guy can hit’

Detroit Free Press

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — Jace Jung, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2022 draft, boarded an American Airlines flight out of Lubbock, Texas, in late July and was prepared to sign his professional contract with the Detroit Tigers the following day in Lakeland, Florida, locking in an agreed upon $4.6 million signing bonus.

Although Jung arrived in Florida on time, his baseball gear — notably, his bats and gloves — did not. “Long story,” he said. “Somehow they got lost but weren’t lost. Weird things happen.” His new teammates shared their bats and gloves, and a couple days later, his luggage finally showed up.

Thankfully, Jung didn’t face any similar issues during his recent trip from Florida to Michigan, as he joined High-A West Michigan for his professional debut Aug. 5. A few weeks after that, in Saturday’s first inning, the left-handed hitter crushed a first-pitch 94 mph fastball over the wall in right-center for the first home run of his pro career.

“He was hitting at home through the draft process,” Whitecaps manager Brayan Peña said before Saturday’s game. “At the beginning, we understood he was a little bit late with the fastball, which was understandable. But now, he goes out there and is driving the ball. He’s showing us why he was our No. 1 guy.”

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In 19 games, Jung is batting .250 (17-for-68) with three doubles, one home run, 15 walks and 18 strikeouts. Over his past six games, the 21-year-old has a .364 batting average with four walks and three strikeouts.

“I’m getting more used to the velocity and everything,” Jung said.

His numbers for the Whitecaps are encouraging, especially the walks and strikeouts. His plate discipline at Texas Tech — 59 walks to 42 strikeouts over 61 games in 2022 — was a key factor in making him a top-15 selection, so the Tigers are pleased to see quality plate appearances, a product of his steady approach, translate to the High-A level.

“One difference is everybody’s going to attack you,” Jung said. “They don’t care who you are. They’re going to come after you no matter what. … We have scouting report meetings before every game. That’s another big difference. I’m trying to get more familiar with them telling me this information and trying to take what I need and implementing it in a game.”

The Tigers aren’t reading too deeply into the numbers — not yet. Rather, the player development department is focused on building trust with newcomers and mining the data (from Blast Motion, Rapsodo and Hawk-Eye).

“The technology we’re using right now is everything I’ve been using at Tech,” Jung said.

After the season, each player will receive a personalized offseason plan to improve for 2023. At that point, there will be communication about ideas for small tweaks, big tweaks and everything in between.

“The one thing we said with the new draftees, especially their pitching and hitting mechanics, is, ‘Let’s get some sample size,’ ” said Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ vice president of player development. “We’re letting them all do what they’ve done in the past to get a baseline. … And then, we start having conversations.”

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Jung has talked with the Tigers’ hitting instructors about getting the barrel of his bat to connect with the ball, part of his adjustment to professional pitchers armed with mid-90s velocity, but he isn’t making swing changes.

“I’m excited for the offseason a little bit, just to see how we’re going to go about the work,” Jung said. “Like, what they want me to do and where they want me to set up. So far, I think everything is going to stay the same. I just got to get more reps.”

His setup in the batter’s box is unorthodox.

He angles his bat back toward the catcher, rather than holding it vertically, and extends the index finger on his bottom hand while gripping the bat. This allows Jung to maximize bat speed and keep his bat on plane with the ball through the strike zone.

As Jung moves from his initial setup, Garko notices something that quells potential concerns about his unique appearance.

“If you look at where he gets to when his front foot lands, it’s a pretty traditional swing,” Garko said. “When his front foot lands, or when he starts his move, it’s good. I mean, the guy can hit. … No changes for him or any of those high picks that came from college. Just let them play and have fun.”

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What impresses Peña, whose MLB career lasted 12 years (2005-16), about Jung is his understanding of his profile as a hitter. He doesn’t try to do too much, uses the entire field and, first and foremost, wants to be an on-base machine. He isn’t going to abandon his approach for power.

“The power comes later,” Peña said. “We want to create that good hitter mentality, and that is what we’re preaching from upstairs all the way down. … He’s been one of the more reliable weapons for us in clutch situations, which is very good. The pressure is not going to affect his game.”

Before Saturday’s game, Jung — a second baseman — went through infield drills with Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell. His defensive position is the main uncertainty. Jung, at 6 feet and 205 pounds, must remain sharp as his body develops to stay up-the-middle in the infield and avoid a transition to first base, third or left field.

Watching Trammell and Jung, the mentor and the mentee, roaming the infield at LMCU Ballpark provided additional insight into Jung’s future and the way he has approached his first month in the Tigers’ organization.

“They cleaned some stuff up, some footwork stuff with the double play,” Peña said. “He is very smart, very respectful and very coachable. He wants to get better. He doesn’t settle. I like that about him. It’s the same thing offensively.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold

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