Teammates again: Tigers select pair of middle infielders

July 18th, 2022

DETROIT -- Jace Jung and Peyton Graham were roommates and teammates in summer ball with the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League. They were Big 12 Conference rivals as middle infielders with Texas Tech and Oklahoma, respectively. After the first night of the 2022 MLB Draft, they are about to become Tigers.

“I just texted him and said, ‘What’s up, teammate,’” Jung, the Tigers’ first-round pick at No. 12 overall, said with a laugh on the team’s Zoom call Sunday night. Graham went in the second round at 51st overall.

Though the Tigers never make Draft picks based on their immediate Major League needs, their selections of major college hitters up the middle with their first two picks was notable. Detroit can use a jolt of offense, short and long term, and both fit the profile. Day 2 of the Draft will begin at 2 p.m. ET on Monday with Rounds 3-10 streaming live on

While Jung and Graham are the latest top college hitters to join the Tigers system, following 2020 top overall pick Spencer Torkelson, they’re a relative rarity in some ways. Jung is the first college middle infielder the Tigers have ever selected with their top first-round pick, and the first middle infielder of any level to go to Detroit’s top pick in 20 years. Though Nick Castellanos was a high-school shortstop when Detroit drafted him with their top pick in 2010, the team announced him as a third baseman.

“It’s going to be fun watching those guys play up the middle,” Tigers amateur scouting director Scott Pleis said.

Jung played second base at Texas Tech, and while some scouts might question his ultimate position, Pleis said they “absolutely” see him at second. Jung, for his part, said the questions only motivate him to work harder on his defense.

Whatever position Jung plays in the long term, his top-rated tool is his bat. The 6-foot, 205-pound left-handed hitter generates a lot of power with an unorthodox swing. Jung starts with his bat tilted back toward the catcher instead of straight up and down -- a little like Matt Olson -- a swing he learned from one of his coaches at Texas Tech, former big league pitcher Ray Hayward.

“I came in my freshman year and I was a normal hitter, as people would say,” Jung said. “I talked to [Hayward], and he said, ‘What do you think about laying down your bat a little bit?’

“I did, and it worked. He laid out all these positives -- longer through the zone, more bat lag, more contact points in the zone. … I just got more comfortable with it, got more rhythm with it, more timing and just got more confidence overall.”

This season, Jung hit .335 with 14 home runs, 59 walks and only 42 strikeouts, following up on a 2021 season in which he batted .337 with 21 homers, 49 walks and 45 strikeouts. In his Texas Tech career, Jung is a .328 hitter with 39 home runs and 126 walks to 102 K's, and led the Red Raiders to two NCAA Tournament appearances.

The combination of hard contact and plate discipline made him the Tigers’ kind of hitter. But the competitiveness appealed to them as well.

“You can see his emotion and his competitiveness on the field and how he wants to win, which is huge,” Pleis said. “You’ll see it as you watch him play. He’s a gritty guy, but his teammates love to watch him play. Just a lot of good traits to be a championship ballplayer.”

That emotion was evident as he described a “great meeting” with Pleis and Tigers scouts and cross-checkers a week ago, then found out Sunday that he was their pick.

“Honestly, if there was a wall in front of me, I probably would’ve ran through it,” Jung said. “So I’m thankful that wasn’t there. But I was pumped.”

Jung, like his older brother Josh, was a star hitter at Texas Tech. Though their time in Lubbock didn't overlap, with Jace arriving the year after Josh was drafted, both Jung brothers were All-Americans for the Red Raiders. Jace was a back-to-back All-American, as well as a back-to-back Academic All-American.

Three years younger than Josh, the 21-year-old Jace was the fourth-ranked college hitter in this year's Draft class and the top lefty college bat.

Graham, ranked 28th on MLB Pipeline’s Draft prospect list, led Oklahoma to runner-up in the College World Series. The 6-foot-3 shortstop hit 20 home runs and swiped 34 bases for the Sooners this season, making him the first 20-30 player in NCAA Division I since 2004.

“The guy’s got freaky power for his build, plus runner, can stay at short,” Pleis said. “Just a super talented guy.”