There is a lot of pressure that comes with being a top-10 pick in the MLB Draft. That pressure intensifies when the organization that drafts you is in a rebuild. In turn, more and more eyes gravitate toward you as a potential savior that can help the big league team get back to contention.
When Texas Rangers players reported for big league camp in February, 2019 first-round pick Josh Jung was among them. It was all but a forgone conclusion that come June or July, the eighth overall pick out of Texas Tech would be taking over the hot corner for a young and rebuilding Rangers team.
Then life threw Jung a wicked curveball.
Jung suffered a stress fracture in his foot, which derailed his season before it could get started. Around the time that some initially thought Jung could be making his big league debut, he'll instead be reporting to Double-A Frisco this coming week.
The game of baseball will barrage players with mental challenges: How to get out of a slump that seems to never end. Getting over an error in a big spot. How to keep your cool when the ump rings you up on a pitch that was six inches off the plate. Jung has done all of that, and more. And his maturity has been praised by club officials since they drafted him.
But getting over an injury? That's a whole new ballgame.
“I’ve always prided myself on my mental game, but there isn’t really anything like coming back from an injury,” Jung told the media on Saturday. “That’s just a grind itself. In that aspect — mental imagery, meditation, all that stuff — I've got a really good process with that now.”
Jung has felt the pressure to live up to expectations ever since he was drafted. But despite the obstacles he's faced up to this point, he's had some sort of control over the situation. When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the minor league season last year, he took advantage of doing all he could at the alternate training site, improving his approach in the process. No, it wasn't game action, but he was still able to partake in baseball activity.
But while Jung was confined to a walking boot and 6-to-8 week recovery, all he could do is watch. That's when it hit him that this was going to be different than anything he had dealt with in his baseball career.
“Watching the big league games and having absolutely no control over the outcome,” Jung said. “I'd be watching the guys either succeed or fail and just being like, 'dang, I have no impact right now. I'm sitting here in a boot with my foot up on the couch and can't do anything.'"
While rehabbing in Arizona, and beyond the hours of Fortnite and watching The Clone Wars on Disney+, Jung found that process in a few different ways. But they share a common theme: Just let go.
“Surrender the result," Jung said. "Be water. Just have fun, not putting pressure on myself. Just whatever happens, happens.
“That's one of the things I tell myself in the box. Just be water. Just flow. Ride the wave. There are going to be some days, the waves are going to be high. Ride them. Some days they’re going to crash and you're going to feel like the world is crashing on you, but just ride it out because it will turn.”
Jung learned the phrase "Be Water" while watching a Bruce Lee documentary on ESPN. Through conversations with mental skills coach Brian Cain, Jung adopted the "surrender the result" mantra, which he even had wristbands made to remind him. And the mindset has even bled over into his preparation.
When Jung was finally out of the boot and [Rangers hitting coordinator] Cody Atkinson came to start his hitting progression, Jung came to another revelation.
"I'm a guy that loves to hit. I just want to hit, hit, hit, and hit some more all day long," Jung explained. "It just got to the point where I don't need to try to force 3,000 swings a day. Just get in there. Do my routine. And if I have some failure, that's okay. Because you're gonna fail 70 percent of the time in this game if you're a Hall of Famer. So why do I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect?
"At the end of the day, I'm probably gonna have 10,000 at bats in my career. So one at-bat doesn't carry that much weight."
Of course, Jung wants to be the best he can be. This is by no means a surrender to failure. On the contrary, it's a surrender to the grasp that failure can have on a ballplayer's psyche. And that's a vital trait to learn at the young age of 23.
"You obviously want everything to go right, but you can't really control that," Jung said. "So I'm going to do everything I can to put myself in a position to be successful. And if I'm not, that's okay. I've got another day coming."
When and where that day is, Jung doesn't know yet. All he is focusing on is joining the RoughRiders this week. The big leagues aren't going anywhere. There's no need to add pressure to a budding professional career.
"I don't want to be that way," Jung said. "I just want to be free and easy. And if I play the best baseball I can, my time will come."
More on SI's Inside The Rangers:
- Rangers Bats Explode In Blowout of Dodgers, Ending Historic Losing Streak
- Rangers Searching To Simplify Things After 12-1 Drubbing In L.A.
- How And When Do Managers Police Pitchers For Their 'Sticky Stuff'?
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