One of the more intriguing players in the Detroit Tigers minor league system is Kerry Carpenter of the Erie SeaWolves.
It is fairly common for 19th round draft picks to fly under the radar, receive little fanfare, and avoid prospect coverage from most outlets. Sometimes, however, they play their way into prospect status, and one such player in the Detroit Tigers’ system who is on the verge of doing so is Erie SeaWolves outfielder Kerry Carpenter. I had a chance to catch up with Carpenter and one of his collegiate coaches to talk about his journey and his player development.
The main reason I wanted to dig into Carpenter’s history is that he really has a very classic minor league story. More often, we hear about the top prospects who sign seven-figure signing bonuses and are under a microscope from day one. Carpenter’s path has been much different and reflects a much more common minor league storyline.
Kerry Carpenter comes from Eustis, Florida, which sits on the eastern shore of Lake Eustis, a 90-minute drive north of Lakeland’s Joker Marchant Stadium. It’s a town of about 19,000, and notably the home of current Kansas City Royals hurler, Brady Singer. After excelling in high school, Carpenter took his talents to St. John’s River State College in Lakeside, Florida, just outside Jacksonville, where he received full tuition based on his athletic and academic merits alike. All he did there was achieve All-American honors for his .433 batting average and .758 slugging percentage, to go along with consecutive Academic All-American recognition.
His JUCO accolades caught the attention of the coaching staff at Virginia Tech, and he was offered a scholarship to continue playing baseball in the ACC. I spoke to the Hokies’ Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator, Kurt Elbin, about what they saw in Carpenter.
“We loved Kerry’s ability to hit out of junior college. He was a bit of a mystery as to what he would end up being defensively but the bat and swing were too good to pass on,” Elbin told me.
A month into Carpenter’s junior campaign, it was clear Elbin was right. Kerry was hitting .354 and comfortably plugged into the two-hole. While the batting average fell off (he finished the year at .272), there was unquestionable game power and discipline, as Carpenter finished the year with 13 doubles and ten home runs (both of which led the team) to go along with a ten-percent walk rate.
When the Tigers called his name in the 19th round of the 2019 draft, Carpenter had a decision to make. Return for his senior season at VaTech or start pursuing his professional aspirations. This wasn’t much of a decision at all.
“When I got the call I was being drafted, I knew I was going to sign. I was excited to start my professional career,” Carpenter explained.
And start his professional career, he did. The 6’2″, 220-pound outfielder made a bit of a mockery of the Gulf Coast League, with 28 extra-base hits, including nine homers, in just 43 games. With that performance, he earned a brief call-up to short-season Connecticut to close out the ’19 campaign.
Then, of course, came the Covid-inflicted 2020 season, where there was no minor league baseball. Carpenter took the situation in stride and capitalized on the opportunities that were available to him.
“It was tough at times, but having a friend in my town who also plays pro ball was a blessing. Then another blessing was an invitation to instructs where we got a good amount of at-bats. That helped a ton.”
According to his LinkedIn profile, Kerry spent the year wrapping up his Finance degree from Florida International University and also picked up a part-time job at Dick’s Sporting Goods for some extra cash.
Coming into 2021, and with the elimination of the short-season level from all of minor league baseball, it was really challenging to project where players like Carpenter would be assigned coming out of spring training. The Tigers felt good enough about his hitting ability to ship the now 23-year old off to Double-A Erie.
“I was a little surprised but I knew I could play at this level, and I was just thankful for the opportunity,” Carpenter remembers.
He set out to prove he belonged right out of the gate and posted some really impressive numbers in the month of May — logging a .293 batting average, with four home runs, 17 runs batted in, and an .841 OPS vs. the much more advanced Double-A pitching. One of the things that really jumped out was his ability to handle left-handed pitching. So far this year, Carpenter is 10 for 32 (.313) vs. southpaws.
His former coach explained what Kerry brings to the batter’s box.
“I always thought Kerry’s ability to handle pitches away were his strengths. He obviously has pull power that is now starting to show up. He’s a smart hitter that works very hard and I am not surprised by his success.”
Things have cooled a bit for Carpenter so far in June, as he’s just 8 for 40 this month. But he understands the task at hand and is really focusing on increasing his ability to do damage.
“I have a lot to work on in all aspects, but controlling the strike zone at the plate is something that could get better. He elaborated, “Being able to swing at strikes that are in my zone will make me a much better hitter.”
In other words, finding pitches with which he can do damage is the next step in his offensive development. Defensively, Elbin mentioned that Kerry was a bit of a mystery even in college. He seems to have found a home in left field in the upper minors. He’ll continue to work on his defensive skill set but the bat and the power profile clearly seem to be his carrying attributes. As my colleague, Chris Brown likes to say, “Let’s find guys who can hit first and we’ll worry about where they play later.” Kerry Carpenter can hit, and if he continues to develop that part of his game, he’ll soon be forcing his name onto more prospect lists.