ARLINGTON, Texas — The 2023 Texas Rangers have gotten off to a fast start as they sit in first place at 18-12 and will next embark on their first long road trip to take on their division rivals on the west coast. They head west with an element that they hoped for coming into the season, but one that was no certainty.
The Rangers will have Josh Jung at third base and fresh off being named the American League’s Rookie of the Month in April, he’s living up to the promise as a rising top prospect despite an injury-filled journey through the minor leagues.
Jung’s story began as one of the best bats in the nation at Texas Tech, but doubts about his ability to hit for power as a professional allowed him to land in the laps of the Rangers as the No. 8 overall selection in the 2019 draft.
After slashing .348/.455/.577 in college, Jung hit for a line of .311/.381/.538 over three seasons at four different levels in the minor leagues. It was obvious that Jung could hit. The problem was, could he stay on the field? The 2020 season was wiped out for minor leaguers due to the pandemic, but between those years, Jung only took the field in 153 games at the amateur level.
Nevertheless, the Rangers appeared ready to promote their top prospect ahead of the 2022 season to kickoff his career as a big leaguer. Unfortunately, on the cusp of spring training, Jung injured his shoulder while training and was forced to sit out the first four months of the season, which continued to cost him valuable reps.
Once Jung made it back to the ballfield in 2022, he picked up right where he left off with by slashing .273/.321/.525 in 23 games for Triple-A Round Rock. With what amounted to his late-year spring training out of the way, the No. 22 overall prospect by Baseball America was finally promoted to the big leagues on September 9, 2022.
Jung had a storybook start to his big league career as he homered in his first at-bat. So much for those questions about his power.
The transition to the big leagues is never easy and Jung finished his first 26-game taste of the top level with a slash line of .204/.235/.418 with a worrying 39 and 4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
That struggle, and the fact that Jung just hadn’t played much since he was drafted, appeared to render him an afterthought at the national level. Despite his track record, Jung slid to No. 66 on Baseball America’s prospect list ahead of this season and though he showed up as a Rookie of the Year candidate, no one thought of him as a favorite anymore.
The dreaded prospect fatigue had dinged Jung’s national perception but the Rangers still believed in him and still needed him to lock down a role in the big leagues to supplement their back-to-back winter spending sprees.
Healthy and with big league experience under his belt, all Jung has done is hit and hit for power for the Rangers so far in 2023. They guy who was a star at Texas Tech and a prospect seen to be on the rise ahead of the 2022 season has shown up and delivered.
Jung was announced as the American League Rookie of the Month for April before Wednesday’s game. Two games prior, Jung’s 1st inning grand slam was the catalyst for a 15-2 beatdown of the New York Yankees. In the series before that, before leaving a game after a HBP on his hand, Jung had hit two home runs by the third inning of a game in Cincinnati.
Jung finished April with a .270/.324/.500 slash line. He powered his way to six homers and 21 RBI, the most by a Rangers rookie since Adolis Garcia and David Murphy respectively. He led all qualified rookies in runs, RBI, slugging and tied for first in hits, doubles and home runs.
Jung celebrated his first month of success in the Arizona finale by going 3-for-5 with two homers and three RBIs. One of those homers brought the Rangers within one in the fourth inning, and the other one turned the game around in the 5th, putting Texas up at the time, 7-6. Jung now sits at a line of .275/.325/.541 for the season and he leads AL rookie hitters in fWAR.
Jung is proving to be one of the more consistent and trusted hitters in the middle of the lineup, and his glove has been no slouch either as he has acclimated to playing every day. He’s still a rookie but he’s been a steady presence in the field and more than good enough to trust that he can solidify third base for the Rangers.
It hasn’t always worked like this for Texas as prospects such as Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, and Rougned Odor ultimately flamed out at the big league level, and guys like Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo proved to be good big leaguers but they never quite stayed consistent enough, which put Texas in a hole that forced them to into a long rebuild that they’re just now recovering from.
Jung will have to continue forward where he too will face the bumps and hiccups in his way as the league adjusts to him, but he’s shown the proof of concept for being a big league regular which is exactly what Texas needs from their next wave of talent.
Do you think Josh Jung will earn the AL Rookie of the Year award? Share your predictions with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.