Rangers' third-base job a wide-open battle

Group comprised of Jung, Odor, Holt, Culberson, Apostel in mix

February 27th, 2021

Rangers manager Chris Woodward always speaks highly of Rangers No. 1-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Josh Jung, who is expected to be the team's future at third base.

But the praise isn’t just about his skill on the field, which shouldn’t be downplayed; Woodward raves about the third baseman’s intangibles, or all the things that have nothing to do with batting average or potential Gold Glove Awards.

“I talk about his process, I talk about his competitiveness, the style of play,” Woodward said. “That's what I want him to focus on, because if he's dedicated to that ... that's his foundation of who he is and what we expect out of him. It has everything to do with just his attitude and his behavior and his work and all those things that we find value in."

Jung has only played one Minor League season, but he is clearly being fast-tracked by the organization to make it to the big leagues by 2022 at the latest. Between Class A Advanced and Rookie ball, Jung hit .316/.389/.443 through 44 games in 2019. He spent all of the '20 season at the Rangers' alternate training site.

The organization isn’t going to rush its top prospects to the Majors, especially Jung, who will be a centerpiece of the rebuild come 2022 and beyond. That makes third base the most wide open spot on the field for the Rangers entering this year's spring camp. The coaching staff has all but confirmed that Jung will start the season in the Minors, leaving a number of options for the club.

Woodward said that the club's No. 11 prospect, Sherten Apostel, is neck-and-neck with Jung in terms of their development, though Apostel may need more improvement from a defensive standpoint. The most important part of this spring for the duo is getting quality at-bats against big league pitching.

“At some point, one of those guys will be ready,” Woodward said. “And we'll probably make that move when they are.”

As things continue to play out at third base, Woodward said that he likes the way the rest of the competition is going so far, but doesn’t want to put too much stock in live batting practice before the Rangers even play any games.

Rougned Odor’s consistent repetition of, “I just want to help the team win,” embodies what his mindset is going into this spring, even if he’s not entirely happy with the outcome. Odor said that he takes a lot of ground balls at third before practice to get more comfortable at the position.

Odor said that he believes in what he can do on the field and believes he should be starting.

“I know that I can help the team win,” Odor said. “That's all in my mind right now. I don't think about negative things. Right now, I just worry about what I can do better to help my team win. I don’t think about what happened in the past. I'm just focusing on working.”

But the addition of Brock Holt to the club on a Minor League deal makes things more difficult for him, especially if Nick Solak wins the starting second base job.

Odor has never played third base as a professional. He’s never played anywhere except second base in his Major League career outside of 12 total games at DH. On the other hand, Holt has 116 career starts at third base, along with 100-plus appearances at second base and in left field.

Charlie Culberson, who was also signed to a Minor League deal this offseason, has mostly been a career bench player with experience at almost every position. Woodward has emphasized how important it is for players to be versatile across the field, which is why utility men like Culberson and Holt have big chances to make the Opening Day roster.

Holt said that he and Culberson -- two of the oldest guys on the roster at 32 and 31 years old, respectively -- have gotten close since the start of Spring Training and they’ve both embraced the competition ahead of them.

“The main point of this camp is competition,” Holt said. “I've kind of been that type of player. That's not something that I'm afraid of. I enjoy competition, I enjoy playing the game. I look at this as an opportunity to prove myself again. I still believe I'm a good baseball player and I can do a lot of things to help a team win.”