Detroit Tigers: What to expect from Kerry Carpenter

Erie SeaWolves batter Kerry Carpenter hit this ball for a first-inning RBI double against the Somerset Patriots on June 11, 2021, at UPMC Park in Erie.P3seawolves061121
Erie SeaWolves batter Kerry Carpenter hit this ball for a first-inning RBI double against the Somerset Patriots on June 11, 2021, at UPMC Park in Erie.P3seawolves061121 /
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The Detroit Tigers are finally calling up Kerry Carpenter.

Shortly after the conclusion of their 5-2 loss to Cleveland on Monday evening, news broke that the Detroit Tigers were calling up minor-league outfielder Kerry Carpenter from Toledo.

It’s a move offense-starved Tigers fans have been calling for since at least June, when Carpenter hit his 20th home run of the season. He’s hit ten more since then, and apparently 30 was the magic number for the Tigers.

Our own Matthew Scheidel looked at Kerry Carpenter just a few weeks ago, but with his MLB debut coming later today, we thought it was a good idea to dig in again.

Who is Kerry Carpenter?

Kenon Carter wrote a full Carpenter profile for us last year, and it’s well worth the read. But we can summarize for you here. Carpenter played his high school baseball roughly 30 miles northwest of Orlando in Eustis, Florida, where he was teammates with current Royals starter Brady Singer.

He then spent two years playing for St. John’s River State College in Florida, where he put up gaudy numbers, before transferring to Virginia Tech for his junior season. Carpenter was the Hokies’ best player that year, hitting .272 with 24 extra-base hits, including ten home runs, and the Detroit Tigers selected him in the 19th round (562nd overall) of the 2019 draft.

Like most late-round picks, Carpenter was sent to rookie ball to help fill out Detroit’s low-level rosters. But he proved to be FAR too good for that competition, hitting .319/.408/.625 with nine home runs in 43 games on his way to winning the Gulf Coast League MVP award.

Minor-league baseball was canceled in 2020, but Carpenter made the most of his free time:

"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."

The Tigers skipped Carpenter over both Low-A Lakeland and High-A West Michigan in 2021, opting to place him at Double-A Erie instead. It was a challenging assignment, but Carpenter held his own for most of the year, producing slightly above-average numbers (102 wRC+) thanks to a .262 batting average and 15 home runs.

Back with the Erie SeaWolves to begin 2022, Carpenter shook off a slow April and went absolutely bonkers in May, batting .411 with 13 home runs and 7 doubles in 24 games. The home runs cooled off in subsequent months, but the doubles kept coming, and he started walking more.

He was promoted to Triple-A Toledo immediately after Erie was eliminated from the first-half Eastern League playoffs, and it didn’t take him long to adjust to the International League. In fact, one of the more stunning developments in the Detroit Tigers system this year has been Carpenter’s sudden discovery of plate discipline.

Carpenter struck out 72 times and walked just 16 times in his 63 games with Erie this season. Since joining the Mud Hens he has struck out 17 times and walked 17 times in 34 games. He also added 8 more home runs, 11 more doubles, and his first triple of the year. It’s been a remarkable season for Kerry Carpenter.

Scouting Kerry Carpenter

Kerry Carpenter can hit, and his plus power is real. He’ll crush balls to the pull side and go out to dead center, and he’ll stay back and spray line drives over the fence in left center. This year he’s done plenty of damage against pitchers who don’t have lengthy big-league careers ahead of them, but he’s an equal opportunity masher.

His first home run of the season came against Guardians flamethrower Daniel Espino, who is ranked the 10th best prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, and arguably has the best pure stuff in the minors.

Hayden Wesneski is a quality starting pitching prospect for the Chicago Cubs (formerly of the Yankees), and he has allowed just ten home runs in 91.1 innings this year. Two of them have come off the bat of Kerry Carpenter.

And then there’s Roansy Contreras. He was a top-100 prospect heading into the season, and has split time between Triple-A Indianapolis and the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he owns a respectable 3.78 ERA over 50 innings this year. According to Baseball Savant, Contreras has thrown 151 curveballs to big-league hitters this season, and allowed just one double and zero home runs on the offering.

But you know who did hit a home run off a Contreras curveball this year?

It wasn’t a very good curveball, but you get the point. Kerry Carpenter can hit, and he can hit quality pitchers.

There’s a big difference between occasionally hitting against MLB pitchers and doing it everyday, and it remains to be seen if Carpenter can make quick adjustments once they find and exploit his weaknesses. But he has certainly earned the right to try.

And he’ll have to make those adjustments to stick in the big leagues, because Kerry Carpenter isn’t likely to offer much value in other areas. He has gotten into better shape over the last year, but he’s still a below-average runner, and he’s not a stolen base threat (he’s 3-for-13 on steal attempts this year). He also lacks great instincts or range in the outfield, and his arm is just average.

In service to Detroit Tigers fans, Matthew compared Carpenter to Christin Stewart and Brennan Boesch. In my opinion Boesch is the better comp, as Carpenter is a better, looser athlete than the maxed-out Stewart, and his arm is stronger, though certainly not a weapon.

The 90th-percentile outcome for Kerry Carpenter might not look all that different from Austin Meadows, and Carpenter has handled left-handed pitching quite well in his pro career, so there is a chance for an everyday regular here.

But the most likely role for Carpenter figures to be as an up-and-down LF/DH type. It wouldn’t surprise me if Carpenter gets off to a hot start in the big leagues and does some impressive damage over these next few weeks.

What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

Next. Detroit Tigers announce 4 minor-league promotions. dark

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