Jace Jung’s steady 2023 season has him on schedule for Detroit

Detroit News

Always, it seems, someone else is getting a surplus of Tigers farm-team limelight:

Parker Meadows — until his Detroit call-up, anyway.

Colt Keith.

Justice Bigbie.

Through it all, another prospect hotshot named Jace Jung has had a quiet and sustained season of steps-taking that began this spring at Single-A West Michigan and has carried on at Double-A Erie.

And all after only 13 months in a Tigers uniform, which began when he was taken 12th overall in the 2022 MLB Draft’s first round.

“Just trying to get out there and execute the plans for myself,” Jung said Saturday during a phone conversation as the Erie SeaWolves got ready for a game against a talented Orioles affiliate, the Bowie Baysox.

“Just trying to execute my approach at the plate – and in the field.”

The “approach” on offense has been to make each at-bat both a classroom exercise and a stage-performance.

Results have been steady: .268 batting average in 30 games at Erie (.254 in 81 games at West Michigan), .372 on-base average, .472 slugging, .844 OPS, with 21 home runs spanning both 2023 stops.

Jung explained his hitting strategy:

“Just trying to make sure I’m on time,” he said, speaking about staying on pitches and about adjustments even during an at-bat. “Not getting away from the plate (favoring, say, inside pitches) just because they’re attacking you in a certain way.

“Being aggressive on pitches over the middle. Putting a good swing on it.”

He has had one particular issue, which the Baysox and their star arms had been feeding on during the past week’s six-game series at Erie, and which showed up during an 0-for-3 game Saturday that Bowie won, 3-0, with the SeaWolves getting but three hits on the night.

“I get beat sometimes on change-ups down in the zone,” he said. “The Orioles (Baysox) are good at that. So, I’m trying to do damage on pitches before I get to two strikes.”

Jung is 22, bats left-handed, stands 6-foot, weighs 205 pounds, and was a gifted hitter during his Texas Tech days. This, of course, has been a family trait, as evidenced by his brother, Josh, who plays third base for the Rangers and is a contender to win the 2023 American League Rookie of the Year trophy, even after fracturing his thumb during an Aug. 7 game.

What makes Jace of such import to a team in Detroit is both obvious and a reason he was grabbed so quickly 13 months ago: Jung can hit. And hit with crunch. It’s a tremendous asset at second base.

Note also those 21 home runs. Note, as well, that Jung played his first 81 games this season at West Michigan.

“I think back on West Michigan, and that (LMCU Ballpark) is really big, not a hitter-friendly park at all,” Jung said. “Kind of toward the end of my time there I decided I can’t be results-oriented when I play in this ballpark.

“I was hitting balls to the warning track that would be out of just about every other park.”

What stands out about his shift to Double A is consistency against pitching Jung concedes is markedly better than what he saw in the Midwest League. He hit .254/.377/.465/.841 at high-Single A — numbers pretty much parallel to what he has done at Erie.

He needs obvious work in one category: strikeouts. He is at 27% at Erie, and here you can detect the difference in pitching, as is evident also in his walk-rate (10.9%). His corresponding numbers at West Michigan were 22.7% and 15.3 %.

“I don’t really harp on those two things,” Jung said. “Everyone wants to strike out less, but I think I saw where (Angels superstar) Mike Trout was saying how pitchers are just getting so much better since he first began playing professional baseball.

“Hearing him say that, one of the best players in baseball, was kind of a relief. It takes a little weight off your shoulder.

“Everyone wants to cut down on strikeouts. And I think that’s something that will happen with me over time. The more you play, the better it should get.

“The past two weeks, for example, I’ve gone more often with a two-strike plan. I don’t like striking out. I don’t see the good in it. I’d rather put the ball in play — soft or hard. I’m just trying to adjust there.”

As for that other duty — defense. It’s being worked on with the same resolve.

It’s instructive to see Jung has played second base, nothing but second base, at both West Michigan and Erie.

None of the AJ Hinch “we need you to play multiple positions” creed has applied to Jung as Detroit sees him, clearly, as its eventual everyday second baseman.

How quickly it happens depends upon polish he can add this season at Erie and, most likely, next spring at Triple A Toledo.

His defense might have made as many gains in 2023 as Jung has made at the plate. His development bosses mention, quickly, how good he has become at turning the double-play. His pivots are clean, his throws strong.

Range has not, and never will be, world-class. But it doesn’t have to be, the gurus say, when making necessary plays within an acceptable radius is the trick.

“You know, it’s funny — a lot of people have doubted me there,” Jung said. “And I think in past interviews, when scouts critique you they’re going to try and take value away from you.

“I like to give the example of my brother: He was told out of college he was a terrible fielder, with no range, a very bad glove, no arm, and I think anybody could check the stats now and say that (critique) isn’t working out.”

“I love proving haters wrong,” Jung said, second base in his rifle-sights. “I want to prove I belong in that spot. And do whatever I can to be good there.”

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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