In the June 2019 MLB draft, with the eighth pick of the first round, the Texas Rangers selected Josh Jung \ Young \, a third baseman from Texas Tech University. The selection was well received by the fan base and also considered a relatively safe pick of a proven college bat out of the Ranger's home state of Texas.
Fast forward to the start of the 2023 MLB season, and while the road has been bumpy in terms of a global pandemic and random injuries, the time is now for Jung to shine on the big stage for the Rangers. Last season looked like it was going to be the rookie campaign for Jung, but a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder kept the budding prospect sidelined for much of the season. Jung was able to come back sooner than expected and played a few games in Triple-A Round Rock before making his major league debut on September 9th, when he hit a home run in his first MLB at-bat.
Jung entered the 2023 season as a Rookie of the Year candidate to watch, but not one of the top few favorites. That is partly because he is on the Rangers and isn't as highly covered as some of the more media-heavy organizations. And then the aforementioned injury issues that he has had have just compounded the cautious optimism surrounding Jung.
However, several factors are working in Jung's favor. One is that he is getting to play every day at third base and is batting fifth in a strong lineup. Opposing pitchers go through the gauntlet of Semien, Seager, Lowe, and Garcia, then stepping into the box the large Texan is ready to mash. And when I say large, I mean large. The 25-year-old Jung is listed as 6'2" and 214 pounds and he hasn't been skipping any trips to the weight room. My seats at both opening day and Wednesday's day game against Baltimore were in the lower bowl on the third base side, and I am here to tell you that he is built differently than most of the other players on the roster.
Another positive for Jung this year is that there isn't a spotlight on the young rookie. Yes, there are expectations, but he is on a team that has veteran superstars both offensively and also on the pitching side of things as well. With the pressure of having to carry the team off his shoulders, he will be able to settle into his role and not try to do too much.
In that Wednesday game, Jung was the offensive and defensive star for the Rangers. In the first inning, he drove in the second run for Texas, and then in the sixth, he broke a tie ballgame with a two-run opposite field homerun on a 78-mph curveball. He stayed back on the off-speed pitch and promptly deposited it over the right field wall. There had been chatter from some evaluators that Jung didn't have the opposite field power that is desired from a corner infielder, but his two home runs so far this season have both been oppo tacos.
Hard work is something that the Ranger's third baseman isn't scared of. When challenged with improving on his defense, Jung has stepped up and is really showing off both the leather and the arm. Already, in the first six games of the year, Jung has made several spectacular plays. On Wednesday, on a do-or-die softly hit grounder off the bat of Austin Hays, he charged hard, barehanded the ball, and threw him out on the run. It was a great play that showcased his athletic ability and his strong arm.
There will be plenty of highs and lows throughout the long season, but Jung is off to a hot start at the plate. In six games he has 24 plate appearances and is slashing .318/.375/.636, with two home runs, five runs scored, four runs batted in, and a 180 wRC+. If there is a place for Jung to improve it will be in reducing his number of strikeouts. He is currently sitting with a 29.2% strikeout% which is actually better than his 38.2% at the end of last season when he was called up to Arlington for his first taste of big-league pitching.
Jung gives Ranger fans a homegrown player to cheer for and watch mature into a solid contributor to the team. Rookies are fun to have on a team, especially when they are as good as Josh Jung. Hot start aside, Jung should be locking down the hot corner and anchoring the middle half of the lineup for a long time.