Isiah Kiner-Falefa was playing a little too well.
Among the Rangers’ regulars, few have been better this spring than Kiner-Falefa, but with that preseason success came a laissez-faire attitude of sorts. He found himself going through the motions. He needed a jolt, and this past week, he got it.
On Wednesday, FanGraphs released its shortstop power rankings for the upcoming season. Projections are a tricky game, but the results were perplexing nonetheless.
Kiner-Falefa, a catcher turned Gold Glove third baseman turned shortstop, a positional metamorphosis that has been rivaled by few, was ranked dead-last among projected starters.
“It’s just frustrating when I put in all that work at catcher, I did cool things and I can’t even get a little credit for it,” Kiner-Falefa said of the rankings. “If you’re a purist of the game, you’d appreciate the way I play and the way I do things.
“It’s kinda weird to see me at the very, very bottom of the list, and I don’t even know half the other shortstops in the league. It’s tough to see. But facts are facts, and the facts are out there. I don’t know why they don’t look into them.”
Among the “facts” that Kiner-Falefa is alluding to is his extensive history at shortstop. On paper, Kiner-Falefa is, indeed, transitioning to a different position, one of the main reasons that FanGraphs’ projection model ranks him so low. That said, he has known the position for years, having played 1,243 innings at shortstop in the Minors.
There’s also his brief, yet brilliant time at shortstop last season. In 121 innings, Kiner-Falefa was worth three Defensive Runs Saved, and there’s even an argument to make that his best defense last season came at shortstop, not the position where he won a Gold Glove.
“I don’t think he needs more fuel to the fire,” manager Chris Woodward said. “He’s got more fire than I’ve seen any player have.”
Despite that track record, Kiner-Falefa has not solely been a shortstop in quite some time. The only time he's played more than 200 innings in a season at shortstop as a professional came in 2014, when he logged 603 innings across three levels of the Minors.
If all goes well this season, Kiner-Falefa will play at least 1,000 innings at shortstop. Not only will he play the position more than ever before, but he’ll do so after last season’s reduced schedule. That workload will require some adaptation, but Kiner-Falefa will benefit from his preparation as a catcher.
“After you catch in Globe Life Park, the old stadium, where it’s blaring hot and I'm losing eight pounds a game, 10 pounds a game from the heat -- once you go through that, I don’t think anything can phase you,” Kiner-Falefa said.
His value on the Rangers will extend well beyond just his glove. With Elvis Andrus, Hunter Pence and Adrián Beltré having departed in recent seasons, Kiner-Falefa is one of several 20-somethings who have been called upon to lead the team. Veteran Brock Holt, who played for the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, will be Texas’ old soul, but the onus of leadership will largely fall upon Kiner-Falefa, Joey Gallo and company.
Kiner-Falefa said he has taken on more of a leadership role this spring, noting how starting shortstops come into camp knowing that they’re “the guy.” As one of the team’s leaders, he has a clear vision of his team’s identity.
“I want us to out-prepare everybody,” Kiner-Falefa said. “You look at Tom Brady and the way he prepares. His season kinda went whatever, then it got to playoff time and you can see how the preparation outlasted everybody else. Peyton Manning is another great example of preparation. You got these guys who aren’t the greatest athletes and they have success.”
When asked about the decision to give Lowe the starting nod, Woodward pointed to the quality of Lowe’s plate appearances and the impact they’ve made on the team.
“A lot of guys on our roster have gone out of their way to tell me how important his patience and his demeanor is to them,” Woodward said.
The Rangers acquired Lowe from the Rays in a six-player trade this offseason, parting ways with prospect Heriberto Hernandez in the deal. In 71 career games, Lowe has hit .251/.322/.447 with 11 home runs.
Woodward also said postgame that he is planning on having Ian Kennedy and Matt Bush on the Opening Day roster, but those moves are not yet official.
• Additionally, 1B Ronald Guzmán and RHP Josh Sborz were informed that they made the Opening Day roster.
• RHP Nick Vincent was released, but the team hopes to re-sign him to a Minor League contract.
• C Drew Butera was released and re-signed to a Minor League contract.
• INF Andy Ibáñez was sent to the Rangers’ alternate training site, while fellow INF Anderson Tejada was optioned to Triple-A.
Right-hander Kohei Arihara will start in Texas’ final game in Arizona on Sunday afternoon when the Rangers face the Cubs at Surprise Stadium at 2:05 p.m. CT.