Healthy Jung working on improving defense

March 7th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- dove to his right, reached across his body and snagged a hard line drive off the bat of Giants infielder Thairo Estrada, robbing him of a hit and ending the third inning in Friday's game.

It wasn’t an easy play at the hot corner, and likely wasn’t even one Jung would have been able to make six months ago, when he first returned to the field with a repaired labrum in his left shoulder. He admits to being cautious at the end of last season, afraid to reinjure the shoulder that cost him most of the 2022 Minor League season.

After an offseason of getting comfortable in his body again, Jung is ready for the challenge. He even said he doesn’t really think about his surgically repaired shoulder in the moment anymore, and after making a few diving plays this spring, it’s clear that both he and the shoulder are in good shape.

“After the fact, I'm like, ‘OK, I'm good,’” Jung said. “When I dove the other day, I drove across my body, which I don't think I'd done yet. I just didn't dive that way, and that was the first time I dove across my body. We saw [Rockies second baseman Brendan Rodgers] dislocate his shoulder the other day on that same kind of play. So when I got up, I was like, ‘Oh, OK. I just did that.’ Everything's good. So it just builds more confidence in it to be able to lay out a little bit more. … I do [feel confident] in the shoulder. So far, so good.”

Defense has traditionally been the one of the weaker parts of Jung’s game, even before the injury last spring. But he’s athletic and possesses good instincts, and his defense is much improved from his Minor League career. 

“So far, it’s pretty good,” Jung said. “I think the biggest thing is just continuing to work every day to make sure I get my feet in the right position. ... And so far I've had a couple opportunities in games and I made them.” 

Despite pretty much locking in the Opening Day third-base job long before Spring Training even started, Jung is entering his first full camp since turning pro.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down what would have been Jung's first Spring Training and his first full Minor League season in 2020. A stress fracture in his left foot cut his first big league camp short and delayed what could have been his MLB debut in '21. Then, in '22, he injured his left shoulder lifting weights on the first day of Minor League camp, leading to the aforementioned shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum that left him sidelined until early August.

He had just 15 Cactus League at-bats before this spring. 

His bat hasn’t fully hit its stride yet this year, with Jung having gone 5-for-20 in nine Cactus League games. But after a long couple of years and multiple injuries, he’s excited to be fully healthy and free to take as many at-bats as he possibly can. 

“It's great to actually get to play games,” Jung said. “It's beautiful to be able to actually compete in Spring Training. I'm building up to where I want to be. I'm not as consistent with the barrel yet. We’re trying to go with the mentality of building up through camp. I don't want to peak here and now. I want to peak in a couple of weeks.”

After Jung's homer in the Rangers’ 9-6 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday, he feels like he’s finally getting his timing down as he continues to refine his approach throughout Spring Training. 

“It was nice to finally square one up,” Jung said with a smile. “It was pretty nice and it was fun, because I've just been missing. I feel like I’m just missing the good stuff, so to finally square one up felt pretty good.”