Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not a natural catcher.
That is a fact.
When a FanGraphs shortstop power ranking had Kiner-Falefa and the Rangers dead last among 30 big league teams, it didn't sit well with a guy who already has a massive chip on his shoulder. In addition, the summary on the Rangers stated the best chance to get average production at shortstop would be through their reserves, including non-roster invitee Charlie Culberson.
Kiner-Falefa, who is not very active on Twitter, quote tweeted the article, saying "This is going on my locker! I wonder who lead the A.L in defensive war last year."
"It's kind of weird to see me at the very, very bottom list when I don't even know half of the other shortstops in the league," Kiner-Falefa told the media on Saturday. "It's tough to see, but facts are facts. The facts are out there. I don't know why they don't look into them."
The Rangers portion of the FanGraphs blog had multiple errors, highlighted by describing Kiner-Falefa as a catcher trying to play shortstop. While the writer tried to mask this with a compliment, it was clear he didn't do his homework.
"He’s been dazzling in a small sample, though, so there’s certainly plenty of room to the upside here; what the heck are projection systems supposed to do about a catcher trying to play shortstop other than shrug their shoulders?"
-Ben Clemens, FanGraphs
First, "dazzling in a small sample" could still be a huge underestimation since Kiner-Falefa is coming off a Gold Glove season at third base. To be fair, we're not going to pretend third base and shortstop are the same positions. But there have been plenty of players who have made the transition to or from in the history of the game.
That actually leads perfectly to the facts: Kiner-Falefa is a natural shortstop. Coming up through the minor leagues, the best term for him would have been utility infielder. In the minor leagues, he played 142 games at shortstop, 132 games at second base, 114 games at third base, and —lastly — 80 games at catcher.
It wasn't until the latter half of his first year in the big leagues in 2018 when the Rangers began the "Isiah Kiner-Falefa at catcher" experiment. Heading into 2019, Kiner-Falefa prepared his body differently to handle the load of a big league season behind the plate.
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Unfortunately for him and his team, the experiment ended in early June (outside one start in September) when he struggled to balance the new position, handle the pitching staff, and maintain success at the other crucial part of the game: hitting. Kiner-Falefa has been open about how hard the transition was, and how thankful he is to be back in the infield.
So if someone says that Kiner-Falefa is "a catcher trying to play shortstop," he's going to take offense.
"For someone to not give me that credit," Kiner-Falefa explained, "or someone to put me down as a catcher and a shortstop and not look into the facts and understand what I am and what I've done for the game...It's just frustrating when I put in all that work at catcher, I did cool things, and I can't even get a little credit for it. I mean, if you're a purist of the game, you'd appreciate the way I play and the way I do things."
Kiner-Falefa now has his eyes set on a new record: becoming the first player in the history of baseball to win a Gold Glove at third base and shortstop. He also plans to take the next step at the plate, looking to improve on his .699 OPS from last season.
He talked earlier this spring about how he felt the pressure to hit with the other third baseman in the game last season, and how he's freed up to be himself at his natural position.
Kiner-Falefa has had his critics throughout his baseball career. And while he won't actually be posting the article in his locker (it's just more of a mental note), it's nothing new for the Hawaiian-born Gold Glove winner.
"It's just been like that for a long time," Kiner-Falefa said. "I felt like I finally deserve some credit, and when when these people still look down on you, it's motivation."