With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time for us to go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this season.
Today, we look at third baseman Josh Jung.
This is not the review we were hoping a year ago that would be written about Josh Jung for his 2022 season.
I mean, to be clear, it isn’t that he had a bad year. This isn’t 2002 Hank Blalock, the stud third base prospect who gets the job out of spring training, flops, and ends up getting sent down and spending most of the year in the minors.
It was just a nullity of a year, for the most part. Jung hurt his should lifting weights, and was supposed to be out most, if not all, of 2022. Even if he returned in 2022, we were told, it would just be as a DH — he wouldn’t be playing the field.
Jung, of course, exceeded expectations, returning earlier than expected. He was in the lineup for the ACL Rangers before the end of July, then joined the AAA Round Rock Express in early August, playing the field most days, with an occasional DH day. Jung was lights out when he first joined the Express, clobbering five home runs in his first eight games, and looking like a guy who should be in the majors, not in AAA.
You may recall the clamoring that was going on at that point, the demands that Jung be brought to Arlington forthwith, the complaints that he was wasting time at AAA. Chris Young kept saying that Jung would be up when the time was right, but for many, the time was already viewed as right. The Rangers were going nowhere, Jung was the future, and goddammit, we shouldn’t be watching Charlie Culberson getting starts at third base instead of Josh Jung!
Jung cooled down, going through a 4 for 27 stretch for Round Rock, and there were arguments over whether this was because he should be in the majors and was bored in AAA and the Rangers were screwing him up. Finally, eventually, in early September, Jung was promoted, and made his major league debut at home on September 9 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
It was a memorable debut. Jung, in his first major league plate appearance, leading off the bottom of the third inning, homered off of Blue Jays starter Ross Stripling. He picked up a single later in the game. The Rangers lost, but Josh Jung had announced his presence with authority. A star was born!
Only, not quite. Jung was one for four with a double the next day, then picked up a golden sombrero in his third game in the majors. He was the regular third baseman over the final month of the season, but experienced growing pains, particularly in regards to contact issues. Jung’s .204/.235/.418 slash line resulted in an 83 OPS+, but the more concerning aspect of his performance was logging 39 Ks against just 4 walks in 102 plate appearances.
That’s a 38.2% K rate and a 3.9% walk rate — neither of which is acceptable for a guy who is expected to be a middle of the order offensive contributor. In looking at the data, Jung had issues both with not swinging often enough at pitches in the strike zone, and with swinging too often at pitches out of the zone. As a result, Jung had a called strike percentage of 19.5%, well above average, as well as a swinging strike rate of 13.2% that was also above average.
While the underlying data for Jung’s cup of coffee wasn’t great, I don’t think it should cause too much concern. As Chris Young noted, Jung was essentially having spring training for the bulk of the time he was on the field in 2022, particularly during his time in the minors. Jung got to experience the majors, face major league pitching, and understand what it is like to be a big league player. There appears to be confidence he will learn from the experience, and be a better player going forward as a result.
The bigger concern with Jung would seem to be the overall lack of game activity he has had over the past three years. The pandemic wiped out the 2020 season (although Jung got time at the Alternate Training Site), Jung was limited to 78 games in 2021 due to injuries and contracting COVID, and then his 2022 season was limited due to the shoulder injury. One has to be concerned about how the lack of overall reps has impacted his development, as well as Jung’s ability to stay healthy going forward.
Jung will be 25 years old when the 2023 season starts, and it would be a major, major upset if a healthy Jung doesn’t start the season as the team’s third baseman. Jung is considered an extremely high makeup guy, and despite the setbacks and injuries, he’s still a top 50 prospect in baseball, someone who is considered a strong Rookie of the Year candidate in 2023. Texas views him as a key part of what should be a playoff contending team for the next few years.
But there is more uncertainty surrounding Jung than we would have hoped there would be, three and a half years after the Rangers picked him 8th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. He still profiles as a first division starter, and has the upside of an All Star performer. It is just unfortunate, due to the injuries that have dogged Jung, we haven’t seen more of him on the field, particularly in a major league uniform, and as a result, are having to rely more on projection and less on recent past performance than we would like.