Jace Jung looked out to the brick walls beyond the vast outfield of Comerica Park and was in awe.
“I think I’m on cloud nine,” the Tigers’ top pick from this year’s MLB Draft said on Tuesday. “First time being in the ballpark, first time seeing it, it’s just unbelievable — the background, the hitter’s eye. Beautiful park, probably one of the best parks I’ve ever seen.”
Then one of Jung’s future Tigers teammates challenged him to hit the bricks.
It was a friendly wager from Spencer Torkelson, but it was also a way for a former Tigers top Draft pick to put another one at ease. Torkelson had been in Jung’s shoes, taking batting practice at CoPa for the first time, though Torkelson’s introduction came during Summer Camp before the shortened 2020 season. Jung at least had a month or so of Minor League ball at High-A West Michigan to get ready.
“Tork has embraced me. He’s such a great guy,” Jung said. “We just had fun. Just go out there and do what you do.”
Five swings, Torkelson challenged Jung. Try to hit the brick wall.
“I was a little nervous,” Jung acknowledged. “He said five swings, and four swings went by. I just missed one the swing before, and then the next one, I put a pretty good swing on and it somehow went there. And I’m like, ‘Oh, let’s go.’”
Jung’s slightly unorthodox left-handed swing sent a batting-practice ball over the right-field bricks, right around where Hall of Famer Sam Crawford’s name is displayed.
It wasn’t necessarily as awe-inspiring as the day Riley Greene sent a homer to the Pepsi Porch over right field a few years ago, prompting Miguel Cabrera to jokingly beg then-general manager Al Avila to keep him here. But it was a cool moment nonetheless, and a sneak preview of the offensive boost the Tigers hope Jung eventually brings to Detroit.
“I talked to Jace inside, spent a nice few minutes with him, told them the next time he sits in my office, I’ll probably congratulate him for getting to the big leagues,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s got a lot of work to do before that day comes, but his family’s here and he gets to celebrate a pretty successful first entry into pro ball. A-ball’s a lot different than the big leagues, but it’s a nice little boost to cap his year, getting to be recognized as a big part of our future.”
It also capped a nice week for the Jung family, which watched Jace’s older brother Josh homer in his Major League debut with the Texas Rangers last weekend. Jace has spent much of his career being compared to his older brother, whose footsteps he followed at Texas Tech University and into the top half of the first round, three years apart.
The younger Jung impressed with more than his bat at West Michigan. The sweet-swinging second baseman, ranked the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, hit .231 with six doubles, a triple, a homer, 13 RBIs and a .706 OPS, but he had as many walks as hits (25), and nearly matched his strikeouts (28). It was admittedly an adjustment.
“One difference [from college ball] is that [pitchers are] going to attack you. They don’t care who you are,” Jung said a couple weeks ago at West Michigan. “They’re going to come after you no matter what. In college, they try to pitch around you, try to get to the next guy. Here, they’re going to come after you, so you have to be ready pitch to pitch and compete pitch to pitch.”
Said West Michigan manager Brayan Pena: “At the beginning, we understood that he was a little bit late with fastballs, which was understandable [after two months off before and during the Draft]. But now you can see that he’s driving the ball. He’s showing us why he was a No. 1 guy.
“He’s a guy who wants to continue to get better. He doesn’t settle. I like that about him. He’s one of those guys who isn’t going to try to do too much, who’s going to use the entire field and be a hitter.”
Another thing Pena noticed was that Jung embraces pressure situations, especially during West Michigan’s chase for a Midwest League playoff spot until the Whitecaps’ season ended last weekend. So maybe it was fitting that Jung had no problem with eyes on him at Comerica Park.
Coming through in the clutch in batting practice Tuesday raises hopes he can do the same in games that count here soon enough.
“Oh yeah. When you get here, you want to be here,” Jung said. “You don’t want to be in West Michigan. When you get to see this stadium, you want to be right here in Detroit, that’s for sure.
“Just hitting on the field, it’s like, ‘I’m this close to making my big league dream come true, too, playing on the big league stage like my brother.’ Just so close.”