This Tigers Minor Leaguer is fixing his swing

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Kerry Carpenter knows a thing or two about swing changes. It was his overhaul in approach two offseasons ago that lifted him from an unranked Tigers outfield prospect to a 30-homer slugger in the Tigers farm system and a bona fide run producer in Detroit. So, when he told anyone who asked about his former Double-A Erie teammate and good friend Gage Workman, it was worth filing in the memory bank.

“He looks really good,” said Carpenter, who hit with Workman for part of last offseason.

Workman, a fourth-round pick in 2020 and former infield teammate of Spencer Torkelson at Arizona State, didn’t go to any hitting specialist to revamp his outlook on hitting. His father, former Arizona State player and Dodgers Minor Leaguer Widd Workman, is his hitting instructor. They sat down together after last season and tried to figure out an answer to a simple conundrum about his game.

Gage crushed balls last year, assembling a rare combination of 30 doubles, nine triples, 14 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a full season at Erie. He just didn’t connect nearly enough, striking out 206 times in 515 plate appearances for a 40-percent strikeout rate. That explains how, despite all that damage, the switch-hitting shortstop batted just .225 with a .691 OPS last year, a trend that continued into the Arizona Fall League.

“I know I can hit the ball hard. It’s just hitting the ball hard more often,” Workman said at the end of Spring Training. “And that’s the same for a lot of guys. Everybody can hit a homer. Can you hit 30 of them in a year? That’s what everyone is trying to do, just finding a way to hit balls hard more often. And for me, I think that’s just making sure the ball is in the zone and not swinging at the ones out of the zone.”

Part of that involves a change in approach for Workman, going to the plate with a game plan and selectivity. To help accomplish that, he tweaked his batting stance and swing to not only punish mistake pitches but give him a better chance against tougher stuff.

“Definitely trying to get on my back hip a little bit, just so I can have a little bit more of a controlled swing,” he explained. “But then a lot is approach where I’m trying to hunt for better pitches, and now I feel like my swing can allow me to get [to] good pitches, too.”

The difference was notable in the scattering of at-bats Workman received with the Tigers in Spring Training. In 12 Grapefruit League games as an extra player brought over from Minor League camp, he batted 5-for-12 for three doubles and two RBIs. Just as important, he kept his plate discipline under relative control, striking out five times and walking twice.

Once the Eastern League season began last week, Workman had to exercise some patience mentally as well before seeing results. He went 0-for-10 over his first four games but had almost as many walks (three) as strikeouts (four). Then on Wednesday, he finally broke out.

Workman began the afternoon by drilling a first-pitch triple off the wall in right-center for a second-inning RBI. Two innings later, he took a couple close pitches to work into a 2-2 count before crushing a solo homer to straightaway center field. He faced a knuckleball reliever in his third at-bat, a rarity for a Minor League hitter, and slapped an 0-2 pitch through the right side for a single.

Workman stepped to the plate in the eighth inning needing a double for the cycle. The switch-hitter turned around to bat right-handed for the first time all day, worked into a 3-1 count and hit an opposite-field line drive that seemed ticketed to hit the right-field fence. Instead, it cleared the fence for his second homer of the day.

Despite a 17-6 loss, it was an incredible performance for the Tigers’ No. 30 prospect, and a reminder why Tigers officials and opposing evaluators still think highly of him. One opposing scout pegged Workman, with his athleticism and potential bat, as a Major League utility player at worst if he can make more consistent contact.

Workman, to his credit, is keeping his goals simple.

“I don’t set any number goals or anything like that,” he said, “just make sure to not give at-bats away and keep working every day. Don’t give any days away at the field. That’s kind of where I’m at.”

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