With the Texas Rangers on the brink of 100 losses, more and more attention is moving to the minor leagues with a hope for the future. This season, the Rangers have drastically elevated the quality and depth of their organization, with both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America elevating the Rangers from the bottom third to No. 11 in baseball.
Other than 2021's second overall pick Jack Leiter, there isn't a more hyped prospect on the farm than 2019's eighth overall pick Josh Jung. The Texas Tech product came out of the draft as one of the more accomplished hitters in the class and was known mostly for his ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. However, questions remained regarding his ability to tap into any pull-side power. It seems like nitpicking, but Jung plays a position that's known for offensive production.
Those concerns were realized in his first exposure to professional baseball. While his contact came through in a .316/.389/.443/.831 slash line in 44 games between two lower levels of the minor leagues, he only hit two home runs during that time.
Sounds more like a middle infielder's production.
But when reports came from 2020's alternate training site that Jung had turned a corner in that area, many were ready to see if it translated to games once minor league baseball returned in 2021. Despite having his season delayed by a stress fracture in his foot, Jung has put any concerns to bed. In 74 games between Double A and Triple A, Jung has slashed .316/.385/.570/.955 with 17 home runs and 59 RBI.
Such a performance has many fans penciling Jung in as the Rangers' Opening Day third baseman next spring. But we've seen several hitters rake in Triple A this season, then go to the big leagues and struggle.
Like, really struggle.
Prior to his call-up in May, Jason Martin slashed .302/.413/.755/1.167 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 15 games. He couldn't carry over that success, and has bounced back and forth between Arlington and Triple-A Round Rock throughout the season. In 58 big leagues games, Martin has slashed .208/.248/.354/.603 with six homers and 17 RBI.
Curtis Terry's call-up to the big leagues fared even worse. Terry was one of the most productive hitters in all of Triple-A baseball prior to his call to the Majors on July 23, slashing .294/.375/.583/.958 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 65 games. His stint in the big leagues didn't last very long after he put up a .089/.146/.133/.279 slash line with no homers and just one RBI. He was optioned back to Triple-A Round Rock after 13 games.
The general consensus throughout baseball this season — and Rangers manager Chris Woodward strongly believes — that the gap between Triple A and the big leagues has never been wider. Martin and Terry's struggles reinforce this theory.
Why is this important to remember with Jung? Despite the strong numbers between the two highest levels of the minor leagues, Jung is just now completing his first full season as a professional. The Rangers may deem him ready for The Show next spring. If they do, struggles are bound to happen (unless Jung is the next Mike Trout).
So what qualities does Jung possess that might help him bridge the colossal gap between Triple A and Major League Baseball a little easier?
"It's the way this guy prepares, but it's also the way he handles his at-bats," Woodward said on Sunday. "He really impressed me from the first day I got a chance to watch him play. He's a ballplayer at heart. He uses the whole field. But the way he talks about hitting. The way he understands different pitches and how to handle them.
"He's well ahead of his years, honestly. It's what we talk about here. It's what you have to do at this level. You're going to face guys with elite stuff. You've gotta have answers [for all of types of pitches]. Josh does a really good job of providing answers in the batter's box. He's a really gritty hitter. Like I said, he has a lot of solutions for a lot of different pitches. That tells me that he can survive at this level."
Josh Jung may very well be ready for the challenge and grind of the big leagues. And if the Rangers are successful in adding a couple of big pieces this offseason, he'll have a better supporting cast than the many rookies who played in Arlington this year.
In all honesty, the Rangers need to hit on a prospect like Jung. They'll do everything they can to help him navigate the daunting task of becoming a good Major League player.
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Another Rangers prospect who has gotten some attention this year is Sam Huff. While he's been hitting countless tape-measure homers throughout multiple levels of the minor leagues, the 23-year-old catcher has been limited to first base and DH duties this season due to knee surgery earlier this year.
Some in the industry have wondered if Huff is eventually destined for first base in the big leagues. And after a season of exclusively playing that position, one might wonder if the Rangers are thinking the same thing.
"We're still committed to him as a catcher," Woodward said. "I don't think we've ever given up on him as a catcher. There's too much skill set there to kind of push that aside. He's got a really good arm. He's a really good receiver. Once he learns the position and understands how we go about our information, he could be a real plus from a defensive standpoint. With the added offense, that's a pretty good mix."
That added offense, though, may be a little further away than most anticipate. Some might have wondered if Huff would have as good of a chance as Josh Jung to make the Opening Day roster next season.
Chris Woodward quickly dashed those hopes — even as a first baseman or DH — with two words: "Probably not."
"He's gotta be better offensively," Woodward added. "I wouldn't say he killed it. He's gotta be better. There's adjustments he needs to make. I know he's all in on doing that, but he's really gotta be a better offensive player if we were to consider that, as a first baseman or DH."
In 46 games with Double-A Frisco, Huff slashed .237/.309/.439/.748 with 10 home runs and 23 RBI. However, he struck out 77 times, which is an alarming number, especially when considering if a player is ready for The Show.
Rangers Release Instructional League Roster
It's that time of year again where a crop of young minor leaguers make their way to Arizona for the Instructional League. On Sunday, the Rangers released the roster for the 17-game schedule, which includes matchups with the Dodgers, Indians, Padres, Reds, Royals, and White Sox organizations beginning on Thursday, September 30.
There will also be a week of games with Texas colleges at the end of October with final details to be released by the Rangers later this week.
Here is the Rangers Instructional League roster:
Promo image: Kelly Gavin / Courtesy of the Texas Rangers
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