Turner’s apprehension was correct, as Jung, the Rangers’ rookie third baseman and No. 1 prospect, launched his first home run of the season 382 feet into Texas’ bullpen to lead off the inning for the first run of the game, propelling the Rangers to a 2-1 victory and a season-opening sweep of the Phillies.
MLB’s No. 34 overall prospect, Jung made his debut on Sept. 9, 2022, and hit a home run in his first big league at-bat. He struggled through the rest of his 26 MLB games in ‘22 with a .204 average and a .653 OPS, but he should be a solid contributor in the Rangers’ offense this season after adjusting to big league pitching. In fact, Sunday's homer was Jung’s first at Globe Life Field since his debut.
“It’s good for him,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He had a great spring, and the first time out he squared that up nicely. He's such a good all-around player. I'm more excited about his defense and what he's doing there. But he can do some damage with the bat, as you saw tonight. It's good for him. He’s had a lot of success, and now he’s a big part of our lineup.”
Jung went 1-for-8 over the first two games of 2023 against Philadelphia, but he also drew two big walks in key situations. The early success is a good sign for the 25-year-old and the Rangers as they hope to showcase their depth up and down the lineup.
The rookie admitted he felt like he was rushing a little bit too much in the first two games, and that’s why he wasn’t squaring up balls as he would’ve liked. But after a conversation with veteran outfielder Robbie Grossman in the middle of the Rangers’ 16-7 win on Saturday, he came back down to earth.
“He was just like, ‘Dude, just slow down,’” Jung said with a chuckle. “And ever since then, I've had a good rhythm at the plate. So we'll hopefully keep it coming.”
And almost more importantly, Jung has looked more than OK defensively at third base. What was once seen as the weakest part of his game as he came through the Minors has turned into a plus for Jung, as he’s made both the routine plays and the more difficult ones.
“He works tirelessly on his craft and you see that offensively and defensively,” said second baseman Marcus Semien. “He’s the best young third baseman, with a good work ethic, so it's going to be real fun to watch him grow. … It doesn't seem like anything is speeding up on him, so he's going to be good over there.”
The Rangers have high expectations for Jung, who was selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. Now fully healthy after multiple injuries throughout his time in the Minors, Texas hopes Jung will be the third baseman of the future alongside the middle-infield duo of Corey Seager and Semien.
Pressure would be understandable. Despite being trusted to hit in the middle of the Rangers' high-powered lineup, Jung has under 30 big league games under his belt. But Bochy doesn’t foresee Jung having an issue dealing with any pressure that comes externally.
“I watched him play this spring,” Bochy said before Opening Day. “I'm sure coming into Spring Training, he probably felt a little pressure, but with the way he played I could see that he was relaxed and had that sense of belonging, that he should be here. Part of our job is to make sure that he knows we're behind him. We’re not putting any added pressure on him. I've been very, very pleased with him.”
Jung, for his part, is embracing his role for a club that has long since seen him as the third baseman of the future with the confidence of Bochy and the coaching staff behind him.
“I don't really believe in pressure,” Jung said. “It's just something you make up and put on yourself. I do believe there are situations where you create it and you create that stress for yourself and it kind of turns you into something that you're not, you know, you clench up and get tight. But I feel like I've always handled quote unquote pressure pretty well.”