LAKELAND, Fla. — As children, Jace Jung and his brother Josh — two future Texas Tech infielders, first-round picks and Top 100 prospects — used to play a version of Guess Who. No mustaches. No eye color. No facial features of any kind. This was a little different than the typical kid’s board game.
“We would literally stand with a bat in the living room and say, ‘Who am I?’ and we had to guess who we were,” the No. 83 prospect said from his first Tigers Spring Training camp. “At the time, it was mostly Yankee players because you had [Derek] Jeter, you had [Alex] Rodriguez, all of them. Growing up, we were always watching them. We’d always try to imitate their swings.”
Almost a decade after Jeter and Rodriguez last shared a lineup, the younger Jung could soon be the subject of similar games across Michigan homes, not just because of how talented a hitter he is but because of how distinctive his own swing has become.
Jung’s left-handed setup is best watched from a spot up the third-base line or close to the visiting dugout. He starts with an ever so slightly open stance. When the pitcher comes set, Jung puts his hands high, above his left ear, and gives the bat a bit of a wiggle. That’s not odd in itself. What is different is that, instead of angling the bat relatively straight up in the air, he points it backward almost at 45 degrees. When the pitch is released, he snaps to attention, keeping everything in line just in time to collect himself and collect hits — and more importantly extra-base hits — in bunches.
It’s a process that started Jung’s freshman year at Texas Tech. About halfway through fall ball, he realized was being humbled by collegiate pitching and needed to find a way to get more comfortable in the box. Red Raiders hitting coach Ray Hayward had some suggestions on easing his stance, but there weren’t any YouTube highlights he could show Jung to model his adjustments on. It would have to be his own.
“There was nobody really,” Jung said. “[Hayward] just came in the batting cage one day, and I was hitting off the machine. He just came in and started talking, and sure enough, by the end of the time he was done talking, we had already switched it. I went off the machine and tried it and I was like, ‘Oh, this feels weird.’ It feels very weird at first, but it was kind of getting into the flow of things, trying to get used to that feeling. Then, I got more used to it, and it felt nice.”
The Detroit infielder said he didn’t feel locked in with the approach until the following summer playing for Santa Barbara in the California Collegiate League. When NCAA play resumed in the spring of 2021, Jung was named the Big 12 Player of the Year with a .337/.462/.697 line, 21 homers and a 45/49 K/BB ratio in 56 games. A year after that, he went 12th overall to the Tigers.
“It gives me more bat lag and a longer time through the zone,” Jung said. “It also allows me to adjust a little bit more, if it’s down like that, personally. Some people have tried it and said they liked it. I don’t know, it just feels comfortable to me.”
If Jung is comfortable, then so are the Tigers.
“When we start breaking things down, what positions are you in when you when your front foot lands?” said Detroit vice president of player development Ryan Garko. “He’s in really strong positions when his foot lands. I think everything done before that is player comfort and player routine and how their bodies work. Jace found something. It’s unique, right? But it works for him.”
But just because this works for now, that doesn’t mean Jung is married to his current setup. After posting a .706 OPS in 30 games at High-A West Michigan, the 22-year-old spent some of the offseason making tweaks. A first full season of pro ball ahead will tell him if more are needed.
“The competition will tell Jace what adjustments he needs to make,” Garko said, “and he’ll be part of that conversation. … He’s a very good player. We picked him for a reason. Let’s let him go play for a while.”
If Jung is the above-average overall and power hitter evaluators expect him to be, then young fans in Detroit and beyond may soon point their bats backward and ask their siblings, “Who am I?”.
“That’s one of my main goals — to inspire the youth,” Jung said. “When you grow up when I did, you aspire to be somebody great like Derek Jeter was or someone like that. When you get here, you just want to do that for the next generation too.”