Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News arrow-downArrow Down icon Arrow Up icon

Kiner-Falefa named Rangers' starting SS

Solak to get 2B look; Andrus, Odor to become UTIL infielders
@Sullivan_Ranger
December 1, 2020

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are going to give Isiah Kiner-Falefa the chance to be an everyday shortstop. Elvis Andrus has handled that position for 12 seasons, but the Rangers have told him to prepare to be a multi-position utility player. That could also be second baseman Rougned Odor's role. Rangers

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are going to give Isiah Kiner-Falefa the chance to be an everyday shortstop. Elvis Andrus has handled that position for 12 seasons, but the Rangers have told him to prepare to be a multi-position utility player.

That could also be second baseman Rougned Odor's role. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, in announcing Kiner-Falefa’s new role as everyday shortstop, said Nick Solak will get the same opportunity at second base.

Second base could be determined in Spring Training. The Rangers' plan at shortstop is more clear at this point.

Offseason checklist: Rangers’ needs, moves

“This wasn't an easy decision based on what Elvis has done for the organization,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “It comes down to, 'Do we believe in Kiner as a shortstop?' I want to see it. Can he handle the position? I believe he can. We felt Kiner was ahead in our minds, so we felt, 'Let’s name him the starting shortstop.' He still has to earn that. Nothing in this camp is going to be given.”

Kiner-Falefa has never had anything given to him. He was a fourth-round Draft pick out of high school in 2013 who began his career as a middle infielder. By '17, Kiner-Falefa had been passed on the Rangers' depth chart by other middle infielders and moved to catcher in '17 to increase his chances of reaching the Majors.

Kiner-Falefa earned his callup as a catcher, but that experiment ended in 2019. He then fell into a utility role and then surprised everybody by winning the third-base job this past Spring Training -- and he went on to win a Gold Glove Award at the position. His goal was still to become an everyday shortstop.

“Something I have dreamt about my whole life and I have worked really hard,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I went through catching ... I got to learn the game from a lot of different perspectives. I don’t think anybody has that type of résumé.”

Kiner-Falefa understands he is replacing a two-time All-Star who helped the Rangers win four division titles and two American League pennants.

“There is not a better guy to learn from than Elvis, who has been one of the greats in the game and definitely going to be in the Rangers Hall of Fame,” Kiner-Falefa said. “To have the opportunity to learn from him, it’s almost like playing next to [Adrián Beltré], only a different version.”

The Rangers want to get more clarity on Kiner-Falefa in 2021 because next offseason could be especially deep for free-agent shortstops, with Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Báez, José Iglesias, Trevor Story and Miguel Rojas all slated to hit the market.

Next year's FA shortstop class is ridiculous

Andrus has spoken to both Daniels and Woodward about his situation. Daniels said that Andrus has not expressed any displeasure or asked to be traded. Andrus hit just .194/.252/.330 this past season while being limited to just 29 games because of a back strain. The Rangers have also seen Andrus’ overall game slip since he suffered a fractured right elbow early in the 2018 season.

“Elvis would certainly prefer to remain at shortstop,” Daniels said. “He is in a good spot mentally and physically, really getting after it this winter. He expressed his confidence and belief he has a lot more good baseball to play. I was glad to hear that.”

Both Andrus and Odor have two years left on their respective contracts. But Odor has also regressed, especially offensively, having hit .167/.209/.413 this past season. The fact that he led the Rangers in RBIs for the second straight year says more about their struggling offense than anything.

The Rangers were high on Solak’s offensive ability after he hit .293/.393/.491 in 33 games as a rookie in 2019. Those numbers slipped to .268/.326/.344 in 58 games in '20, but part of that was due to him being shuttled between the infield and outfield.

The Rangers now seem determined to let Solak earn the right to be the everyday second baseman. Woodward said that appears to be Solak’s best position despite showing the ability to handle both left and center field.

“He has to prove that he can handle the second base position defensively,” Woodward said. “Let's focus on second base to see how good of a second baseman you can possibly be. I think we'll see a better version of him."

These moves leave the Rangers without a set third baseman. Andrus could win that spot in Spring Training, or the Rangers could add from outside the organization.

The Rangers' No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is Josh Jung, who was the No. 8 overall pick out of Texas Tech in 2019. Jung played in 40 games for Class A Hickory in '19 and spent last summer at the Rangers' alternate training site in Arlington without being called up.

The Rangers see him as a potential big bat for the middle of their order, though he isn’t ready to step into a big league role yet. Texas also has Sherten Apostel as its No. 10 prospect and Davis Wendzel at No. 11.

“We’ve got some young players we don’t expect to be ready for Opening Day, but we think will factor at that position going forward,” Daniels said.

The most interesting infielder on the free-agent market is Ha-seong Kim, who is being posted by the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization. Kim has the potential to play third, shortstop and second base.

Kim could be the next KBO-to-MLB star

“We are still in the process of looking at all our options, domestic and any international free agents that come out [and] trade options,” Daniels said.

The answer at third base could be somebody who holds down the position until the Rangers feel Jung is ready, and then move to other positions. That’s why Andrus or Odor could be an option there as well.

“Honestly, we're not writing off Elvis Andrus,” Woodward said. “We're not writing off Rougned Odor. The ball is kind of in their court.”

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.