After wondering if he'd make it, Kerry Carpenter is here to stay


This is how you know Kerry Carpenter is going well. This is how you know he's coming for more: "I haven’t had my best couple of weeks," he said Thursday on 97.1 The Ticket, "after a great August." In the month of September, Kerry Carpenter is hitting .311.

Fact is, Carpenter is right. While his average continues to climb, the power is down and the strikeouts are up compared to last month. He hasn't homered in 18 days and almost all of his hits over this stretch have been singles. But that's the thing: the hits keep coming. It's only a matter of time before the power returns.

"Maybe, sometimes, all the success in the big leagues surprises me, because I never want to be expectant of baseball success," Carpenter said. "It can go away in an instant. ... I never expect to be perfect every day and when I got to pro ball, I didn’t expect to just figure it out all of a sudden. Just put the work in and try to reach my full potential."

Carpenter was a 19th-round pick in 2019 who knew that's where he deserved to be drafted after a less-than-stellar season at Virginia Tech. He also "knew I had more talent than the 19th round." He just had to prove it in the minors.

As the story goes, Carpenter was referred by his friend and former fellow Tigers minor-leaguer Jacob Robson to a hitting coach by the name of Richard Schenck after Carpenter had struggled in his first season in the pros. Robson thought Carpenter had more in his swing and figured Schenck could get it out of him. Schenck had helped launch Aaron Judge's career in 2017 and remains the reigning AL MVP's personal hitting coach to this day. His core philosophy is called launch quickness, a novel term for an age-old approach: activating the hands as quickly as possible from the moment you decide to swing.

Carpenter admits: "It took me a while to believe him and go hit with him."

"But once I did, I figured out this launch quickness, the ability to adjust to every pitch," he said. "It took a while to click, a couple months in the minors last year. But once it clicked, it clicked. What this guy teaches is correct. He changed my career, he changed Judge’s career, so it's cool having that relationship. ... I'm glad (Schenck) can use me as an example now."

He sure can. He sure does:

Schenck sent that tweet on Christmas Day 2022, when Carpenter, a man of deep faith whose walk-up music at Comerica Park is a Christian Rock song, had barely 100 MLB at-bats under his belt. Schenck knew Carpenter was destined for success. Since his swing change, Carpenter had raked in the minors and then flashed some pop with the Tigers at the end of last season. Schenck may have had even more faith in Carpenter than Carpenter himself, who once wasn't sure he'd make it to where he is now.

"Baseball is a career path (where) you can’t plan for the future," he said. "You don’t know how it’s going to go, you don’t know if you’re going to move up, move down, get released, go to the big leagues. So there were always times where I was like, 'Man, I don't know how long I’m gonna do this, where this is gonna end up.' I don't know if it was self-doubt, but there were definitely thoughts in my head about it. I just trust that wherever I am is exactly where God wants me to be."

Carpenter, who just turned 26, is hitting .290 this season with 20 homers and an .857 OPS. He used to be a designated hitter who batted almost exclusively against righties. Now he's an improving outfielder who bats every day in the middle of the Tigers' lineup. He has the same slugging percentage (.507) this year as Rafael Devers, the same wRC+ (133) as Mike Trout. He's also tied with Trout (who has been injured for most of the second half) in sweet-spot rate -- how often he hits a ball in the launch angle sweet-spot zone of 8-32 degrees, per Baseball Savant.

Along with Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, Carpenter looks like a joist of Detroit's offense for years to come.

"It’s awesome to be able to build around a couple of guys and thank God that I’m part of that right now," he said. "We’re headed in the right direction, and you can see hope."

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