Carpenter named Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year

Detroit Tigers

For most Tigers players and fans, the end of the season was a chance to forget a rough year. For Kerry Carpenter, it was a chance to finally pinch himself.

Around this time a year ago, Carpenter was arguably fighting for his career. He was headed to St. Louis to see a hitting instructor about a swing change in search of more power at Double-A Erie. Now, he’s not only a Major Leaguer, he has a chance to earn significant playing time in the Tigers’ outfield and in a key spot in Detroit’s lineup.

Racing through the Tigers’ system to Detroit this past summer, Carpenter didn’t have time to step back and soak it all in. He finally got to this fall.

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that a lot,” Carpenter said on a Thursday afternoon Zoom call after being named the Tigers’ 2022 Minor League Player of the Year. “I thought about, maybe in March and April, I’m like, ‘Did I even believe, or did I even think, that I would be in this position right now?’ And sometimes I probably didn’t believe it.”

For most Tigers Minor League award winners, that chase for the big leagues is still ongoing. For Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year Wilmer Flores, the club’s No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, it’s clearly in his sights. Last year’s winners, outfielder Riley Greene and right-hander Beau Brieske, both made it to Detroit and became important contributors in 2022.

Carpenter is already there. After slugging 30 home runs between Erie and Triple-A Toledo, the most among Minor League hitters at the time of his callup in August, his 103 at-bats with the Tigers down the stretch provided a large enough sample size for him to self-evaluate and make adjustments. As challenging as it can be to follow up a season beyond even his dreams, the at-bats give him an idea of how to do it.

Carpenter is back working with hitting instructor Richard Schenck, who had a good year watching pupils Carpenter and American League single-season home run record holder Aaron Judge. Not surprisingly, with new Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris and manager A.J. Hinch mentioning the importance of controlling the strike zone and limiting strikeouts, Carpenter is focusing on plate discipline.

“I feel like my swing can let me do that,” Carpenter said, “because I can be quick to the ball, so I can make later decisions and make better swing decisions, pick pitches that I can drive, can handle. And then later in the count, do a better job of putting the ball in play, helping the team out a little more.”

Carpenter’s swing rates on pitches inside and outside the zone were well above Major League averages. His swing-and-miss rate, in turn, was also above average. Like a lot of young hitters, he crushed fastballs — six home runs and three doubles out of 18 hits — but struggled to connect with breaking balls.

Though the Tigers’ roster has a glut of left-handed hitters in the outfield picture — including Greene, Austin Meadows, Akil Baddoo, waiver pickup Bligh Madris and No. 17 prospect Parker Meadows — Carpenter’s power stands out. The Tigers, Harris included, are inclined to give Carpenter and the rest of Detroit’s young outfielders a chance to continue building at the big league level.

“It’s not easy to go to the big leagues and perform right away,” Carpenter said, “so the fact that they’re really letting people come up and develop in the big leagues, I think it’s the best way. There’s nothing that can prepare you for it other than going out there and doing it on the big stage against the guys we’ve watched forever.

“It seems like they have some trust in the young guys, which is really cool. But we’ll do our part and we’ll perform.”

The biggest change on the horizon for Carpenter might be on the back of his jersey. Carpenter debuted in Detroit wearing No. 48, previously worn by left-hander Matthew Boyd. Once Boyd’s return became official on Wednesday, the question followed: Would he get his old number back?

“I heard Kerry’s a good guy,” said Boyd, who hasn’t asked for it. “I was happy wearing a different number [in Seattle]. I think my wife and my dad were not wanting to change any of the stuff that they have in their closet still, so I’ll have to give Kerry a call and see if he’ll be OK with that.”

Carpenter was anticipating that.

“I want to give it back to him,” he said. “He’s earned it. I don’t want to extort him for anything.”

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