Does Kerry Carpenter have a future with the Detroit Tigers?
Every year, Detroit Tigers fans have at least one prospect that they clamor for the team to call up to the big leagues. Last year it was Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. This year, it’s been outfielder Kerry Carpenter.
Carpenter was a 19th-round pick in the 2019 draft out of Virginia Tech. He put up a .967 OPS in rookie ball in 2019 before putting up modest numbers in Double-A last season. A slashline of .262/.319/.433 with a .752 OPS and 15 homers in nothing to get excited about.
This season, Carpenter has took off, having an OPS of 1.067 with 22 home runs in Erie before getting promoted to Triple-A Toledo, where he hasn’t slowed down a bit.
This is the first Tigers hitting prospect that wasn’t a top draft pick to pop off like this in a long time, so naturally the fanbase wants to him in Detroit as soon as possible. But the question remains, is he a real prospect? Does he have an actual future in the big leagues?
Carpenter was recently added to MLB Pipeline’s top 30 prospects list for the Detroit Tigers at No. 23. They give him an overall grade of 40 on the 20-80 scale with his highest tool grade being his power at 60.
Here’s more from Pipeline regarding Kerry Carpenter:
"“Over 30 percent of Carpenter’s fly balls in his second Erie go-round were homers, and while that is unsustainable, it does speak to how much harder he was driving the ball following the changes. That said, Carpenter did face strikeout issues with the SeaWolves, and those would likely be exacerbated in the Majors. His near-even splits against righties and lefties, however, at least help his chances to play every day.”“By his admission, Carpenter isn’t terribly athletic, and while he has some experience in right field, he is best suited for left when he does play the field. Until he develops another above-average tool, he could be best as a DH who plays the fourth outfield role.”"
That last sentence is quite telling. The main thing holding Carpenter back is probably his defense. He’s not very good in the outfield. The lack of athleticism really hurts him in that regard. They do give him a 50-grade arm, which is okay for left field, but being a DH at the major-league level is a strong possibility.
Despite the gaudy numbers in the minors this season, his bat is no sure thing either. He really struggled with strikeouts before his promotion to Toledo. He struck out 72 times compared to just 16 walks with the SeaWolves this season.
However, his plate discipline seems to have improved in Triple-A, albeit over a small sample size. In 20 games, he’s walked as much as he’s struck out (nine times each). In order to really see if he’s made an adjustment there, we’ll need a bigger sample size. We’ll check back on that at the end of the season.
As for the changes Pipeline was alluding to, he worked with a hitting guru last offseason by the name of Richard Schenck, also the personal hitting coach for fellow Tigers prospect Jacob Robson. Schenck has also worked with the likes of Aaron Judge and Ian Happ.
He was able to help Carpenter add more loft to his swing by using his legs more. It took a little bit, but the results have reflected the changes he made.
It’s easy for fans to say that a prospect should be called up with the numbers that Carpenter has, and that’s only been exacerbated by how terrible the Detroit Tigers offense is. But the fact of the matter is that Kerry Carpenter is likely a fourth outfielder at best right now. I’m no scout, but Christin Stewart seems like a decent comparison with the power, high strikeout numbers and poor defensive profile.
Another comp to a former Tiger would be Brennan Boesch. His first half of the 2010 season was the stuff of legends, hitting 12 home runs with a .990 OPS. He fell off hard in the second half though, batting just .163, and he never really reached those same heights ever again, despite a nice first half of the 2011 season. He could never adjust to big league pitching, and Carpenter has those same concerns.
Kody Clemens is another Tigers prospect that got some hype before his callup, but he’s hit .143 in 70 plate appearances with Detroit. The Detroit Tigers need an offensive spark, but until he makes more adjustments, it’s probably not going to come from Kerry Carpenter.