Baseball America has a piece up today that highlights 19 players who impressed scouts during this fall’s Instructional League play. That list includes Texas Rangers third baseman Josh Jung, who was described as “a plus hitter with plus power.” Matt Eddy with Baseball America tweeted that Jung was one of four players who he “would be looking to buy low” for dynasty fantasy league players.
Jung, who the Rangers took with the 8th overall pick out of Texas Tech in the 2019 draft, was a somewhat controversial pick, being seen as something of a reach at that spot (he was generally ranked in the teens on most publications pre-draft boards), as well as being viewed by some as a relatively low-ceiling pick. The biggest knock on Jung coming out of college was his relative lack of power — while he was seen as having a good chance at sticking at third base, and not having to move over to first base, Jung still needed to hit for more power than he had displayed at the college level to be an impact player in the majors. The risk is that he ended up in the Brett Wallace zone, a guy with a nice hit tool and good approach whose lack of power makes him fringey at a corner spot.
Jung didn’t exactly put those concerns to rest with his performance with Hickory after he signed, slashing .287/.363/.389 with 1 home run in 179 plate appearances in 2019 at low-A. Nevertheless, there was a sense of optimism that there was game power in Jung’s bat, which could be tapped into with minor adjustments to his approach, rather than needing a full swing overhaul.
Jung generated a lot of positive talk in spring training, as well as getting rave reviews for his work at the Alternate Training Site this summer. His makeup, which the Rangers graded highly coming out of college, has been praised, and the word has been that he’s hit the ball hard this summer.
Still, its one thing to hear praise from internal evaluators, and another to hear it from outside sources. The Instructional League was the first chance scouts have had to see players from other organizations (other than those appearing in major league action) since March, and the fact that Jung was singled out by outsiders, and that Eddy is predicting his stock will be rising, is noteworthy. Jung snuck in to the back end of the major top 100 lists this past offseason, and I am guessing we will see him in the 40-70 range when the new lists come out later this winter.
Jung is going to be one of the primary stories to follow in spring training, 2021. Isiah Kiner-Falefa won the Gold Glove at third base this past offseason, but there’s some thought that he’s best suited for shortstop or second base long-term, and I think the Rangers’ Plan A for third base going forward will be to have Josh Jung there. Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus are currently manning second and short, but both are seen as potential candidates to lose their starting jobs in 2021. Given the Rangers’ commitment to rebuilding, Jung could well earn a spot in the Opening Day lineup with a strong spring training, with IKF sliding to second base or (if Nick Solak plays second) to shortstop.
Even if Jung doesn’t break camp with the team — if, for example, the Rangers opt to give Odor and Elvis the month of April to sink or swim once and for all, or if the Rangers decide Jung needs a little more time — I’d expect to see him in the majors no later than the All Star Break. All indications are that he is coming in a hurry.