ARLINGTON, Texas — 2021 was quite the year for Texas Rangers top hitting prospect Josh Jung.
At first, it looked like his big league debut was all but a guarantee. The Rangers were in full evaluation mode, and third base was only manned by a platoon of veteran role players.
Then, adversity hit.
Jung suffered a stress fracture in his foot, which delayed his return to baseball by a couple of months and essentially ruled out any hopes of a call to Arlington.
But Jung pushed through. The 23-year-old learned how to "be water" and "surrender the result", all while posting some of the best numbers seen from a Rangers hitting prospect in quite some time. In 78 games between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, Jung slashed .326/.398/.592/.990 with 19 home runs and 61 RBI. Even though it was only his first full professional season (thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic), Jung has given every indication that he is ready to play with the big boys.
However, that doesn't mean it was easy.
When the Triple A season concluded, Jung took a six-week hiatus from the game. He watched a lot of TV and frequently visited his brother Jace Jung and the rest of the Texas Tech baseball team during their intrasquad portion of the fall. Jung also spent plenty of time meditating in his sauna and devoted a lot of time to learning how to cook, recruiting his brother has his guinea pig.
"I wanted to take a step back," Jung said. "I had a good season. I went through a lot of stuff. I learned a lot. I just wanted to reflect on it and have some time basically to myself and enjoy my house that I've had for a year and a half and spent only a month in. It was a lot of fun."
Now that Jung has decompressed, it's time to ramp things back up again. With the owners of Major League Baseball locking out the players without a Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, clubs can't have 40-man roster players at their facility, much less talk to them. It's a unique situation, and the Rangers have taken advantage of an opportunity to take a closer look at their prospects.
Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, general manager Chris Young, manager Chris Woodward and new bench coach and offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker hosted six of the organization's top prospects at Globe Life Field on Monday for a development and leadership "orientation", as Daniels put it. Only hosting six players allowed more one-on-one time to have deeper, more intimate conversations, which even included an opportunity for the players to give the front office feedback.
Jung was one of the six, and the giant elephant in the Globe Life Field was his eventual Major League debut. Regardless of when spring training will actually begin, Jung knows he's going into camp with a legitimate shot at winning a spot on the Opening Day roster as the club's everyday third baseman.
"It's a little early for me to say specifically," Daniels said. "Overall, we think very highly of him. Josh has always impressed as somebody who's gonna take advantage of every resource that he has at his disposal. He has a genuine curiosity and a desire to improve. ... Ultimately, he's gonna be in a great spot. The timing of that is just too early to say."
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Daniels acknowledged that Jung has met every challenge thus far, and believes his drive and competitiveness will help lead him through future challenges and adversity.
Finding a way to beat out Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the job at third base is the next obstacle.
"The way it looks right now, I'm going to have a Gold Glover right there in front of me," Jung said. "I've just gotta be the best version of myself I can be. I just can't wait for the competition, honestly. I know Kiner is awesome. He's a good dude. He's a good player. I can't wait for the competition when camp comes."
Jung is not only eagerly anticipating the upcoming competition in camp, but is also as amped as fans are about the Rangers living up to their word by spending half a billion dollars on bringing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to Texas. Unlike many of the young players on the 2021 squad, the veteran presence for this year's team will put players like Jung in a much better situation.
"I've got a Gold Glover in front of me, I'm going to have a World Series MVP to my left and I'm going to have a 45-homer guy on the other side of the field. It can't get much better than that, honestly," Jung said.
"From a baseball maturity perspective to an experience perspective—I mean, the guy (Seager) won an MVP in this building. It will be super cool to have those guys around. They take the weight all off your shoulders because they're the guys."
Obviously, Jung would love the opportunity to break camp as one of the 26 guys that will host the New York Yankees on March 31. But the road he walked through 2021 made him wiser, more mature and better equipped to achieve his goals—including his inevitable call to the show.
"You want to be optimistic," Jung said. "The main goal is to be healthy and break with the club at some point this year. I'm not going to put goals or limits on when I'm going to get there because I truly don't control that portion of it. But what I do control is going in every single day and being the best Josh Jung I can be. That's my goal going into camp. If that wins me the job, great! If it doesn't, I'm still going to be the same guy wherever I end up."
Fans have been waiting for the next Rangers prospect to pop. So far, the numbers are lining up and Jung, who was a communications major in college, is saying all the right things.
But the Rangers are convinced Jung's actions will speak far louder than his words.
"He's not just saying what you want to hear," Daniels said. "You can see it in how he acts and the kind of things he researches on his own. He has as much drive to improve himself as any of the young guys that we've been around."
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