GLENDALE, Ariz. – Under the glow of a waxing gibbous moon at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday, Salt River's Jace Jung brought his impressive 2023 power display full circle by slugging his first Arizona Fall League home run.
A scoreless game finally was broken up in the top of the sixth inning when the Tigers' No. 4 prospect ran into an 0-1 offering from Glendale southpaw Jordan Carr (Twins).
“It's the monkey off my back,” Jung said. “It's just nice to see it go over the fence. The hard work you put in and finally [getting to] see some results.”
Two frames later with the Rafters trailing, Jung again delivered a go-ahead knock, slashing a two-RBI double down the right-field line to give Salt River a lead it wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 7-2 victory.
A year ago, the power-packed Tigers infield prospect arrived in Arizona, set on mashing his way through the competition and further amplifying his all-around offensive profile. Colt Keith (DET No. 2/MLB No. 25) did just that when he suited up for the Rafters, all while embracing third base, a position he received further seasoning at during his time in the desert.
Prior to arriving in the Fall League, Jung, whose 28 homers in 2023 topped Keith by one for the organizational lead, had yet to play at the hot corner as a pro. His last appearance at the position came in 2021, and the last time he played the spot with any regularity was his freshman season at Texas Tech the previous season.
MLB’s No. 67 prospect decreed Wednesday that he feels good at third, a spot on the diamond that runs in the family. Seeing a Jung manning the hot corner isn't new to any fan of October baseball, having seen Jace’s older brother, Josh, play an integral role in the Rangers’ run to the World Series.
One of the younger Jung’s calling cards as a hitter is an impressive streak of patience at the dish. Throughout his time with Salt River, he has a nearly equal walk-to-strikeout ratio (12-to-13), having drawn multiple walks in five separate contests.
After a brief 30-game stint with High-A West Michigan to cap 2022, Jung returned to the level this year and delivered considerable offensive impact with an .842 OPS and a 136 wRC+, marks he superseded upon his call up to Double-A Erie. Among batters to amass at least 200 plate appearances in the Eastern League this season, Jung ranked sixth with a 154 wRC+ (ahead of him on the list were fellow SeaWolves teammates Keith and Justice Bigbie, the Tigers’ No. 21 prospect).
There isn’t much that’s conventional about the left-handed-hitting Jung – whom the Tigers selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2022 Draft – at the dish with a uniquely pointed bat angle and setup, but he’s continued to excel at every stop of his baseball journey.
“He's got incredible bat speed,” Erie manager Gabe Alvarez said earlier this summer. “I’d only seen videos and gotten reports from our coaches and coordinators. Everybody knows that he can hit. I think what people see is kind of an unorthodox stance, but I think it’s just unique to him. He makes it work.
“There’s a lot of great hitters that have their own stances, and those are the stances that kids and players end up trying to mimic. When I was a kid, everybody knew Will Clark’s stance. It’s going to be one of those types of situations. Not a lot of players are going to hit like that, but he’s going to make it work for him.”
Hitters often struggle to acclimate in their first taste of the upper levels, but Jung tied his High-A homer total (14) in 34 fewer games with Erie. He slugged six roundtrippers in September and helped lead the club to the postseason, where they swept their way to the first championship in franchise history.
While Jung won’t receive that ring until next spring, his competitiveness has enabled him to remain singularly focused on continuing to impact the ball for Salt River ahead of wherever 2024 leads him.
“It was good to see postseason play,” Jung said. “Just being a part of that, being able to go out there and win a championship with them was nice. It really sets the tone for next year. Going out there and trying to do the same goal wherever I finish – just try to win a ring somewhere.”