Could the Texas Rangers Start with Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the Minors in 2019?
By Kenneth Nash
While many hoped Isiah Kiner-Falefa would start the year as the Texas Rangers primary catcher, could a stint in the minors be on the horizon instead?
Many fans hoped that the Texas Rangers would have young utility man, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, behind the plate come Opening Day. All signs that Texas views Kiner-Falefa as the catcher of the future for the club after transitioning from a predominantly infield role in his early professional career. Even though he may be the future, he may not be the present for the club though.
Expectations are at this point, that Jeff Mathis will be the everyday catcher for the Texas Rangers come Opening Day. Take a look at MLB.com and their Rangers depth chart and Mathis is listed first with IKF backing him up followed by Jose Trevino in the third spot. But with Mathis seemingly locking up the number one spot, the question now shifts to whether Kiner-Falefa will start the season in the minors to continue working on his defensive game behind the dish.
Why Are The Minors An Option?
TR Sullivan of MLB.com is the first I’ve seen raise the idea of IKF starting 2019 in the minors and honestly has some quality evidence backing up his thought. Sullivan lays out some of the catching statistics for Kiner-Falefa from last season and they were some of the lowest in the league taking into account his limited work.
More from Texas Rangers News
- Early 2023 MLB mock draft has Texas Rangers selecting an Ohtani-lite
- 3 Texas Rangers outfield trade targets not named Bryan Reynolds
- Did Jacob deGrom really mean what he said at his Texas Rangers press conference?
- Martin Perez accepting the qualifying offer looking like solid deal for the Rangers
- 4 outfielders the Texas Rangers can still pursue this winter
In pitches that were borderline, Kiner-Falefa got a strike called only 40.7 percent of the time, well below the league average of 47.3 percent. He also has well below average arm strength and exchange time which raises some concern about his ability behind the plate.
Obviously, many of those concerning statistics can be improved with extra work and some good mentoring. The Rangers addressed the mentor side of things by signing the veteran Mathis who is renowned as one the top defensive catchers around. But if extra work is needed and he’s not ready to handle the main workload at the Major League level maybe some time in the minors is the answer.
Can They Afford To Not Have Him In Arlington?
While Texas and manager Chris Woodward might not want to rush Kiner-Falefa into a primary catching role, they might not be able to afford not having him in Arlington. Last season, Kiner-Falefa had a breakout season as a rookie and cemented himself as a fan favorite. IKF hit a stunning .261 in his first Major League season while playing in 111 games at a variety of positions.
He didn’t show any mind-blowing pop with the bat only generating 24 extra base hits. However, he showed an impressive ability to make contact regularly only striking out 62 times in 356 at-bats, one of the best rates on the team.
Obviously, it’s a somewhat relatively small sample size, being only a season long, but he was still one of the most consistent players for a Rangers team that struggled mightily in 2018.
What Will Happen Come Opening Day?
If I had to place money on where Kiner-Falefa will be on March 28th, I’d imagine it’s in Arlington taking on the Chicago Cubs. While he still has plenty of room for growth behind the plate before he can be the crowned “future”, he still brings too much to the table to not have him in the bigs.
Kiner-Falefa should start the season with the Texas Rangers as the backup catcher to Jeff Mathis with the potential to grow his role and playing time. IKF earned his spot on the Major League roster with his performance last season and should continue to get chances in Arlington. If he’s struggling and the club needs an alternative, he can spend time in Triple-A to continue developing but until that point comes, number 9 should be in the home dugout of Globe Life Park.