Minor League HR leader to debut for Tigers

No. 22 prospect Carpenter will DH for Detroit on Wednesday

August 10th, 2022

DETROIT -- The question would come up as Kerry Carpenter mashed his way through Double-A pitching at Erie early this season: Why are you still here?

Fans would ask. So would opposing players, tired of watching him dominate against their pitchers on his way to 20 home runs by mid-June.

“I try not to think about it,” Carpenter said earlier this summer. “All I can control is where I am, and I know that where I am is exactly where God wants me in the moment.”

As Carpenter took his power display to Triple-A Toledo and kept on hitting, including his Minor League-leading 30th homer of the season on Sunday, the question had to come up with Tigers officials: As Detroit struggles for offense, why was Carpenter still in the Minors?

That was rectified after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Guardians, in which the Tigers’ lone runs came on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch in the ninth inning. Carpenter is headed to Detroit, manager A.J. Hinch announced, and will make his Major League debut Wednesday as the designated hitter.

Nobody knows how Carpenter’s power will play against Major League pitching. But then, nobody saw Carpenter’s power coming this season. With the Tigers entering the final weeks of a disappointing season with plenty of playing time available, it’s time to find out.

Here’s what to know about the Tigers’ No. 22 prospect and why he’s getting this opportunity now:

Where did Carpenter come from?
The Tigers drafted Carpenter in the 19th round of the 2019 MLB Draft out of Virginia Tech, where he slashed .272/.371/.490 in his lone season as a Hokie. After a solid stretch run in Class A Short-Season ball in 2019, Carpenter came out of the canceled '20 Minor League season and had a solid first full pro season in '21 on an Erie team that had top prospects Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Dillon Dingler and Ryan Kreidler in the lineup.

Carpenter hit .262/.319/.433 with 24 doubles, 15 homers and 74 RBIs in 112 games for the SeaWolves last year. It was a productive year that suggested promise, but nothing suggested the kind of breakout this season, batting .313/.380/.645 with 30 homers and 75 RBIs between Erie and Toledo.

What clicked for Carpenter this year?
As Carpenter explained earlier this year, he embarked on a swing change last offseason at the suggestion of teammate Jacob Robson. After working on his own, he connected with Richard Schenck, a hitting instructor in St. Louis whose clients include Aaron Judge and Ian Happ, among others.

The retooled swing aimed for more launch angle, but it took a month or so into the Double-A season before paying dividends. After striking out 24 times in 69 plate appearances in April, Carpenter hit 13 home runs in 24 games in May, batting .411 with a 1.393 OPS.

From there, Carpenter was on point.

“I always knew I was capable of being really good,” he said in June. “When I’ve been locked in in the past, I felt like I could hit anything that was thrown to me. So when I felt that this time, I was like, ‘It doesn’t matter really what’s being thrown at me. If I’m right with my approach and right with my swing, I feel like I could hit anything.’”

Why did the Tigers wait to call him up?
First, the Tigers didn’t promote Carpenter to Triple-A until late June in large part due to an outfield logjam. Detroit’s decision to trade Trayce Thompson to the Dodgers helped open a spot. Second, the Tigers wanted to give Carpenter time with Toledo to see more experienced pitching and see how he adjusted before making any decision on calling him up.

Carpenter's power took a little time to emerge in Triple-A, where he hit one homer in his first 14 games. In that stretch, however, Carpenter still batted .386 with a .614 slugging percentage, his power manifesting itself in seven doubles. He homered in seven of his next 19 games. With the Trade Deadline in the rearview mirror, Robbie Grossman dealt to Atlanta and no pennant-race pressure, there was no reason to wait.

Where will he play?
One question about Carpenter has been where he will end up on defense. He has been limited to corner outfield work so far, and will face some questions about playing the outfield at Comerica Park. Plus, Detroit’s stockpile of left-handed hitters in the outfield was an issue. Another factor that helped open playing time was Miguel Cabrera’s ongoing battle with knee issues, which will limit his workload at DH.

Can Carpenter spark the Tigers' offense?
That’s asking a bit much. Several young hitters have come up with high expectations and couldn’t make an immediate difference, from Torkelson to Kody Clemens to Greene. Even if Carpenter’s power plays here, that doesn’t mean it will transfer to veterans like Jonathan Schoop, Jeimer Candelario, Javier Báez and Tucker Barnhart. But just adding one power threat is a good thing for a team that ranks last in the Majors in home runs, as well as for a fan base eager for some more punch.