With just over 10 days until the Texas Rangers are slotted to open up the 2020 season, can Isiah Kiner-Falefa force his way into Chris Woodward’s lineup?
In Spring Training Part One of this year, the part that actually took place during normal Spring Training times, Isiah Kiner-Falefa was one of the most widely discussed players for the Texas Rangers. The utility man who jumped into the big league scene in 2018 was looking to work his way back from a poor 2019 campaign and fight for a regular spot with the club in Arlington. Able to play throughout the infield, Kiner-Falefa was a forgone conclusion to make the roster to open the season because of his versatility, but with his impressive displays in camp, he was pushing for a much more prominent role.
In an admittedly shortened Spring Training due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiner-Falefa was arguably the Rangers’ hottest hitter with a .378 average in 15 games. Perhaps more impressive than his ability to generate hits this spring was the added pop he had in his bat leading the club with four Spring Training home runs and finishing with an OPS of 1.167.
When Spring Training 2.0, one of the questions that would garner attention was whether Kiner-Falefa could recreate some of the magic seen earlier this season. Based on reports out of Arlington thus far, Kiner-Falefa has kept up his hot hitting with the focus on the stark improvement in his exit velocity.
How Does He Get Into The Starting Lineup?
It’s not really a shock to see that people are pushing for Kiner-Falefa to be a starter for the Rangers to open the season. A club who lacked some offensive depth last season could use a breakout bat to help balance the lineup out. The question would be, how to get Kiner-Falefa into the order and fortunately for the Rangers, things might be working themselves out on their own.
One of the problem areas for Texas this offseason was the lack of a true, everyday first baseman. Ronald Guzman was the presumed starter entering the offseason but lacked a convincing argument that he should be given sole control of the reins at first. However, the club opted to not bring in a dedicated first baseman this offseason, at least one with bonafide starter ability and instead opted to sign former Yankees’ prospect Greg Bird.
This offseason and throughout the two “Spring Trainings”, neither Guzman nor Bird has inspired tons of confidence that they should be guaranteed a spot at first base this season. Enter Isiah Kiner-Falefa. But instead of at first base he would open the season at third. That would allow the Rangers’ top free agent signing Todd Frazier to slide over to first base, a position with which he has experience.
For the Rangers, having a player force their way into the lineup isn’t a bad problem to have. With the rotation the Rangers’ constructed this offseason the lineup is the definite area of concern for the club with the only threats offensively for opposition expected to be Joey Gallo, Willie Calhoun and Danny Santana with Nick Solak featuring intermittently. Another catalyst in the lineup would make the hitting group seem a lot more formidable considering it has some decent depth with the likes of Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor.
As of now, it seems likely that Isiah Kiner-Falefa will be the go-to third baseman for the Texas Rangers to open the season with Frazier opening the year at first base. Because of the shortened format of the season though, don’t be surprised to see Chris Woodward ride the hot hand as often as possible with little time afforded to those who are fighting through extended slumps.