Erie SeaWolves outfielder Kerry Carpenter's hot season, faith have him looking up

Erie SeaWolves outfielder Kerry Carpenter is one of the hottest hitters in Minor League Baseball.

He was named the Eastern League Player of the Month for May last week, just days after he was selected as the Eastern League Player of the Week.

Despite his torrid hitting over the past month and his enhanced outlook as a Detroit Tigers prospect, Carpenter says his improvement can't be solely attributed to a change in his swing. He credits his successes to his faith in God.

It wasn't, however, until his father died that Carpenter fully embraced his faith.

“I grew up in a household with Christian morals, but I wouldn't say I actually believed,” Carpenter said. “I was saved in January of 2021, and it has been the best thing to ever happen to me.”

Erie SeaWolves outfielder Kerry Carpenter gives thanks after hitting a home run against the Harrisburg Senators on Tuesday at UPMC Park in Erie. The SeaWolves won 11-3.
Erie SeaWolves outfielder Kerry Carpenter gives thanks after hitting a home run against the Harrisburg Senators on Tuesday at UPMC Park in Erie. The SeaWolves won 11-3.

Ken Carpenter's liver cancer wasn't discovered until he was in Stage Four. He went through treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation.

It was too late.

The cancer took Ken Carpenter in May 2020, and his death left Kerry Carpenter searching for answers.

“My faith was always in the back of my head, but I never lived it out. When my dad passed away, that kind of made me ask myself some questions and look for answers,” Carpenter said. “God wouldn't let me go, and it was amazing.”

In addition to being his father, Ken Carpenter had been Kerry's biggest fan.

Kerry Carpenter, Erie SeaWolves
Kerry Carpenter, Erie SeaWolves

“He was awesome. He went to every game he could possibly go to, and he would watch every game he could watch,” Kerry Carpenter said. “He was my biggest supporter, and now it's my mom (Julie) and sister (Haley), and it's really great.”

Carpenter realized his dream of becoming a professional baseball player in June 2019 when the Tigers drafted him in the 19th round.

His first phone call went to his biggest fan.

“It was the coolest feeling at the time, and the first call I made was to my dad. He was so happy,” Carpenter said. “It's a day I'll never forget.”

Dominating the Eastern League

Carpenter, a 6-foot 2-inch, 220-pound, left-hand hitting outfielder, put together a decent season in 2021 with the SeaWolves. He hit .262 with 24 doubles, 15 home runs and 74 RBIs in 112 games.

It was a good year, but there was more to unlock.

“I had a little swing change in the offseason before spring training. I had a pretty good year last year, but it wasn't good enough in my eyes,” Carpenter said. “Some people were telling me I could be better and have a better swing. It has paid off.”

Those people included his friend and former SeaWolves outfielder Jacob Robson.

Robson was instantly critical of Carpenter's swing and suggested a few tweaks. Carpenter took a leap of faith to fight the muscle memory and use his new swing to unlock more power at the plate.

Things to know: Carpenter building big numbers for Erie SeaWolves

After hitting two more home runs on Saturday, Carpenter is batting .333 this season with 19 home runs and 40 RBIs. He leads the Eastern League in all three Triple Crown categories.

“Kerry has been incredible," said SeaWolves manager Gabe Alvarez. "He is hitting right-handers and he's hitting left-handers,” “He's hitting fastballs. He's hitting offspeed pitches. He's in a good place right and now, and I feel so happy for him. He's a guy that puts in the work every day and now he's being rewarded for it.”

Carpenter's 19 home runs in 46 games have him on pace to shatter the team record of 35 home runs by Steven Moya in 2014.

More than a yellow stripe: UPMC Park's higher home-run line in left field adds subplots for SeaWolves

His numbers as a whole have him on pace to become the Eastern League MVP.

That is, of course, if he stays in Erie the rest of the year.

“Whatever happens, happens, and I'm going to keep trying to get better,” Carpenter said. “Wherever I'm at, it's in God's hands. It has been awesome being rewarded for hard work. It was an amazing month and so much fun.”

Carpenter isn't getting anxious or upset that he isn't in Triple-A Toledo when his numbers scream promotion.

Instead, he has become a crucial part of the SeaWolves' lineup as they chase the first-half playoff spot.

“Kerry is a guy in the clubhouse that everyone loves,” Alvarez said. “He's quiet but also a leader on the team. He leads the right way, and he is everyone's favorite guy in the clubhouse.”

Crossroads in college

While a majority of minor leaguers have been dominant baseball players most of their lives, that wasn't the case for Carpenter.

He had to work hard to even make an impact on his high school team in Eustis, Florida, as a senior. Carpenter's emergence came too late as college recruiters passed him by.

“It was tough because I wasn't that great until senior year, when I got a lot better,” Carpenter said. “I still didn't hit for much power and all of the big schools had their guys and even smaller schools too. I got in touch with a (junior college) and developed there for a few years. I wasn't ready for big-time baseball at all out of high school.”

Carpenter wanted more out of his baseball career, but instead of getting frustrated, he embraced the opportunity at St. John's River State College in Florida.

Carpenter became an All-American in both of his seasons with the Vikings. He was in the top five in 11 offensive categories as a freshman and then led the team in 10 offensive categories as a sophomore.

“It was kind of tough,” Carpenter said about going to a junior college out of high school. “I came to terms with it when I knew it is what I needed. I wouldn't trade those two years for anything. It was amazing, and I needed it badly.”

Carpenter's development led to an opportunity at Virginia Tech where he started all 53 games in 2019. He had 19 multi-hit games and 10 multi-RBI games. Carpenter racked up all kinds of impressive offensive numbers, which led to being drafted by the Tigers.

“I was watching the live tracker for a while but turned it off just 10 minutes before I was drafted,” Carpenter said. “Then randomly a bunch of my friends started texting me. Then I got the call from the scout who was on me at Virginia Tech and it was cool.”

From fighting his way to Division I baseball to becoming one of the hottest players in Minor League Baseball, Carpenter's road hasn't been easy.

He believed in himself and when he found his faith, he said he relied on God to guide him.

The loss of his father not only led Carpenter to reconnect with his faith, but it changed how he looked at life as well.

“It gave me a better perspective, really a whole new perspective on life,” Carpenter said. “It taught me how to live and treat every single day.”

Contact Tom Reisenweber at Follow him on Twitter @ETNreisenweber.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie SeaWolves' Kerry Carpenter's hot start, faith have him looking up