DALLAS — The debut of highly touted third base prospect Josh Jung was delayed in 2022 due to a shoulder injury sustained last spring that robbed him of the first four months of the season. After the poor overall performance of the team stalled the need for his expedient arrival, Jung didn’t reach the majors until September.
However, upon his return to full-time playing status in Triple-A Round Rock in August, it became apparent that Jung was still the heir apparent at third base but that he still has a lot to prove entering his age 25 season.
With Jung healthy and having a fairly great spring in Arizona this year, the former 2019 8th overall pick appears more than ready to finally make his ascension at the hot corner for the 2023 Rangers squad.
2022 Opening Day Third Baseman: Andy Ibañez
2023 Projected Opening Day Third Baseman: Josh Jung
Ibañez wasn’t supposed to be the regular, full-time third baseman for the Rangers in 2022. He was coming off of a decent 2021 splitting time in Arlington and Round Rock, playing multiple positions, and in a prime spot to be a bench and platoon guy option. But when Jung injured his shoulder during a pre-camp workout, then-manager Chris Woodward was forced to go to Ibañez to fill the role.
While the 29-year old Cuban was serviceable with a glove, his bat rendered him a liability early enough in the season, when the Rangers needed some support in the lineup for their two new superstars, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. After a slash line of .218/.273/.277, Texas sent Ibañez back down in June.
This did not cue Jung’s call-up, however. With the former Texas Tech Red Raider still not yet cleared to return, Texas went to a rotation of Ezequiel Duran, Josh Smith, Brad Miller and Charlie Culberson for two and a half months before Jung was included in September call-ups.
Culberson held his own, while Smith and Miller proved to be more useful rotating in the outfield. Ultimately it was rookie Duran who earned most of the reps at third base after Ibañez’ departure, playing 51 games for the club in Jung’s stead. Ibañez was released over the winter before being claimed off waivers by the Detroit Tigers.
Duran wasn’t the most defensively sound at the position, committing nine errors in 135 chances, but his bat held up well enough, especially with the Rangers out of the playoff chase and able to see what they had from various youngsters. Duran’s contact was marginally better than Ibañez, but his slugging was nearly 100 points higher, as he slashed .236/.277/.365 while bouncing between DH and third base.
When Jung finally got the call in September, it was essentially an extra spring training for the prospect. The team wasn’t in contention, but were playing spoiler down the stretch; the cup of coffee trail was seen as a way to get Jung some precious time in the big leagues ahead of a year where Texas is looking to get back into the thick of a playoff hunt. Jung collected 20 hits in 26 games, slugging five homers and driving in fourteen. For what it was, it was acceptable.
Spring 2023 has told a different story for the 25-year old. The bat, for sure, has come around. In 18 spring games, Jung has slashed .319/.346/.660 with three homers and six RBI. Even though that’s likely not sustainable over the course of 162 games, Texas will take even three-quarters of that type of production in the lineup, especially with a revamped, strikeout-heavy pitching staff that looks to minimize contact and might not need as much run support as in previous years.
Defensively is where Jung put in the most work in Surprise this spring. He won’t be an Adrian Beltre – nobody ever will. But Jung has been working on his footwork, positioning and reads to ensure that he can get to the balls that are hit his way. With that aforementioned pitching staff, Jung doesn’t need to be a Gold Glover at third. All he needs is to make the plays in front of him.
With high expectations, some seasoned players next to him in Seager and Semien and seasoned leadership with new manager Bruce Bochy, Josh Jung is ready to make the long-promised impact that Rangers’ fans and the front office alike have been waiting for.
Do you think Josh Jung will become a mainstay for the Rangers at third base in 2023? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.