Tigers’ Wilmer Flores, Kerry Carpenter relish ‘special’ minor-league honors

Detroit News

Detroit Tigers prospects Wilmer Flores and Kerry Carpenter were awarded the organization’s minor-league POTY awards Thursday — but the P stands for two different things.

Flores, a 21-year-old right handed starter from Venezuela, earned pitcher of the year honors.

“When they told me (I won), it felt really good,” Flores told reporters on Thursday. “I reflected on the award I got last year in the offseason, and it just means a lot to me.”

Carpenter, a 25-year-old designated hitter from Florida, earned the organization’s player of the year honors.

“It’s pretty special,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know the full history of the award, but … it’s really cool to be in line with (such great players). This wasn’t even necessarily on my mind going into the year, winning an award like this, but the fact that the hard work paid off and everything that happened this year, seeing this award is really cool and I’m really grateful for it.”

There’s a lot of proof in the pudding that Carpenter, a former 19th-round draft pick (2019), has made great strides in the Tigers’ organization.

Over the offseason, Carpenter made major adjustments on his swing, allowing him to lift higher and power farther. He was among the minor league’s home run leaders before he was called up to the Tigers on Aug. 10. He hit 30 home runs in 98 games between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He ranked third among all minor-league players with a .645 slugging percentage and was ninth with a 1.025 OPS.

Carpenter played in 31 games, hitting .252 in 103 at-bats with six home runs and a .795 OPS.

“I’ve thought about (my season) a lot. I thought about how, maybe in March or April, did I even believe or did I even think that I would be in this position that I am right now?” Carpenter said. “And sometimes, I probably didn’t believe it. But God did what he did this year and I’m grateful to him for that. This is an amazing experience.”

Flores pitched in 25 games (24 starts) between Single-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie, going 7-4 with a 2.79 ERA, with 130 strikeouts in 103.1 innings pitched. Flores led all Tigers minor leaguers in ERA (minimum 100 innings pitched), while ranking fourth in strikeouts. He also earned a spot in the midseason Futures Game.

During the season, Flores said he dealt a lot with fatigue. So this offseason, he’s focusing on improving his stamina. The award, to him, is just a stepping stone in the greater journey, and he has a long way to go before he meets his own expectations, he said.

Flores, like many others, expects a lot from himself when he takes the mound. He’s going to work on mechanics, movement and efficiency during the offseason, so that he’ll be even more prepared when spring training and eventually March roll back around.

Carpenter said the offseason is, so far, pretty normal for him too. He’s getting right back into hitting and preparing for when springs peaks its head out. Carpenter is working on his control and approach, especially within the strike zone, a request from Tigers president Scott Harris.

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

Carpenter hasn’t had the chance to work closely with any of the Tigers’ major leaguers, but he has had the chance to chat. He hopes that when he really starts to get in the rhythm of preparation with live at-bats and other reps, he’s going to try to pick their brains for guidance. He’s looking forward to building on that.

“We’re all excited. That’s the biggest thing — excitement,” he said. “It’s like starting fresh. We can only get better from last year.”

Sara Tidwell is a freelance writer.

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