With chip on shoulder, Jung proves glove is good as gold

November 17th, 2023

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.

It's fair to say Jace Jung played second base this season with a chip on his shoulder. The Tigers' No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, knew the buzz about his defense from scouts and evaluators, and he wanted to prove them wrong.

“A lot of people undermine my defense,” Jung said in early August. “A lot of people have their opinions. People read what other people say about my defense, and they have that stigma about me. If you’ve never seen me play and you just read about what people say, then obviously you’re going to think about what they say.

“I think that’s the biggest thing coming here. People are like, ‘Oh, he’s not bad defensively.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not.’ You read the reports and the scouting reports trying to critique you. My brother [Texas’ Josh Jung] is a darn good third baseman, and he got told that he wasn’t very good coming out of college. I mean, we’ve heard it all, we’ve seen it all. That’s what a scout’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to critique you, try to find weaknesses in your game. I try to prove them wrong, try to show them I can play a little bit of defense.”

He won over his Double-A manager, Erie’s Gabe Alvarez, who made Jung the centerpiece of the SeaWolves’ infield defense. And now, Jung has a Minor League Gold Glove Award to back it up.

It’s a prestigious honor and an exclusive club, because unlike in the Majors, the awards aren’t separated by league. Only one player at each position throughout the Minors is selected for the award. And baseball has no shortage of prospects at second base, including top Pirates position-player prospect Termarr Johnson. Another is fellow Tigers prospect Colt Keith, which explains in part why Jung could follow up his Gold Glove Award at second with a move to third for the first time in his brief pro career.

Jung posted a .993 fielding percentage at second, charged with just three errors over 109 games there between Double-A Erie and High-A West Michigan. He also turned 62 double plays, which made an impression on Alvarez.

“Good hands, really good arm,” Alvarez said of Jung in August. “He can turn a double play really well because of his arm strength. I think that’s a weapon, when you can have a second baseman that can really turn a double play. That’s what good teams have.”

That arm strength carried over to third base once he began playing over there regularly in the Arizona Fall League. 

So why did the Gold Glove winner at second begin playing third in the AFL? Like a lot of players in the system, the Tigers wanted to add versatility to Jung so that he isn’t blocked positionally. While Keith also plays second and third, the Tigers believe his arm plays better at second. He’s expected to compete for an Opening Day roster spot in Spring Training at one of those positions. If Keith settles in at second, Matt Vierling could get a chance at third, freeing up playing time in a crowded outfield that could also include prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy, who split his season between third base and left field with Triple-A Toledo.  

“We’ve done some things developmentally to try to open up paths,” president of baseball operations Scott Harris said last month. “That’s going to be really important for us, to see how all these pieces are going to fit together.”