Texas Rangers: Ways to Keep Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the Lineup
By Kenneth Nash
Isiah Kiner-Falefa got his shot with the Texas Rangers early this season and has impressed in his opportunity.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa got his chance to make an impact for the Texas Rangers when second baseman Rougned Odor went down with an injury. In his short time with the club, Kiner-Falefa has impressed everyone with his poise at the plate and his level of development. The infielder was not considered a high-end prospect for the Rangers organization with MLB.com 2018 Prospect Watch ranking him as Texas’ number 28 prospect. Despite fairly tempered expectations, Isiah Kiner-Falefa has quickly become a fan favorite and a consistent producer.
With all of his production so far, questions now arise on what Texas should do with him moving forward. There are a couple of ways the Rangers can keep Kiner-Falefa in the lineup when the team is all healthy but it could mean some drastic changes.
First, the Rangers can use Kiner-Falefa at shortstop until the return of Elvis Andrus. Andrus, who went down with a broken elbow a couple of weeks ago. With a timetable of 6-8 weeks, Texas will still have some time before he returns which is the easiest way to keep getting Isiah Kiner-Falefa playing time.
Kiner-Falefa Takes Over As The Second Baseman
This is a pretty big ask for the Rangers. Making Isiah Kiner-Falefa the second baseman would mean benching young upstart, Rougned Odor. Despite baseball being a results driven business, the team is unlikely to move on from Odor. Kiner-Falefa is currently outhitting where Odor was when he went down with an injury but the Rangers will view Odor’s upside as too high to not keep testing.
Call to the Pen
Even though Texas won’t likely replace Odor, it’s not like the move wouldn’t be without reason. Kiner-Falefa is currently hitting .273 through 16 games which is the second highest average on the team. His .310 on-base percentage also points to an ability to help this offense produce. When Odor went down with his injury, he was hitting just .206 through the first 11 games. Looking back to last season, Rougned hit a career low .204 striking out 162 times in a 162 games. His historically bad season couple with a rough start will at least bring forth the question of whether Texas should look in another direction.
Seeing If Kiner-Falefa Can Catch At A Big League Level
Isiah Kiner-Falefa was experimented with at catcher in the minor leagues. Having started 67 games behind the plate in the past 2 seasons, the young player does have some experience with 580 innings under his belt. His fielding numbers are not the best posting a .988 percentage in that time and allowing 10 passed ball in his time. Impressively he did post a .341 caught stealing percentage which for a new catcher is pretty good.
The question is, defensively, could Kiner-Falefa contribute as the catcher. At the plate, he’s blowing away the production of Robinson Chirinos who is hitting just .178 with 32 strikeouts in just 21 games. If the Rangers think Isiah Kiner-Falefa can be at least adequate behind the plate, it begs the question, should he be the starting catcher for the Rangers?
Both of these possibilities unfortunately are unlikely. Texas won’t bail on Odor and they most likely don’t feel Kiner-Falefa has the makings of a big league catcher. What Jeff Banister must do, is find a way to keep him in the lineup as often as possible when the injured players return. His production may drop at some point which would kind of discredit all of this opinion, but as of right now, he’s earned the right to play regularly and the Rangers need him pretty badly.