Ibañez will have to earn it as Rangers explore 3B options

March 15th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- In December, the Rangers were planning to enter Spring Training ready for a third-base competition between 2020 Gold Glove Award winner Isiah Kiner-Falefa and No. 2 prospect Josh Jung.

Then, Jung, who's believed to be the long-term solution at the position, had surgery prior to the start of Minor League camp and Kiner-Falefa was dealt to the Twins (and then again to the Yankees) in exchange for catcher Mitch Garver.

What was gearing up to be an exciting competition now has the Rangers looking for a stopgap at the hot corner as everybody eagerly awaits Jung’s MLB debut. While Opening Day is the focus, manager Chris Woodward said the club will use platoon advantages if it has them and one guy may not get the majority of the reps (though that is still a possibility).

Here are the club's options at third base as Opening Day approaches:

Andy Ibañez

Woodward said if Ibañez is to be the Opening Day starter, it is “up to him,” but as the days pass, this is looking more and more like the obvious pick. When Ibañez was a prospect, his defense was the main point of contention, but he cleaned it up during his first year in Arlington.

Ibañez slashed .277/.321/.435 with a 107 OPS+ through 76 games. He played just 11 games at third base, while spending most of his time at second (31 games) and first (12 games). He committed just three errors: one at third and two at second.

He’s likely the best offensive pick for the spot and the defense is solid enough to keep him getting most of the reps there. Ibañez will likely be the Opening Day starter, though how much time he gets there after that will be dictated by his performance.

“As far as Andy goes, if he hits, if he plays the position really well and hits at a high clip, he may end up being the everyday guy,” Woodward said. “But he's got to earn that. I'm not going to hand that to him right now. He's got to earn his way through.”

Nick Solak

This one is less likely. Solak was the Rangers’ Opening Day second baseman in 2021, but offensive inconsistency led to a midseason trip down to Triple-A Round Rock. Since being supplanted by Marcus Semien, Solak doesn’t have a solidified position at this point.

Solak primarily played second with both Round Rock and the Rangers last year, and he also spent time in left field over the previous two seasons. He also played 11 games at third base in 2019, but he hasn’t played there since.

Solak will get work at third in camp, but he’ll mostly be focused in left field, according to Woodward.

Yonny Hernandez

Like Ibañez, Hernandez is a versatile infielder with the ability to play multiple positions on the dirt. Of his 44 big league appearances in 2021, Hernandez spent 29 at third, nine at second and six at shortstop.

Offensively, Hernandez profiles as a 1990s second baseman. He’s small -- just 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds -- and quick, and he gets on base a lot despite having limited power. He slashed .217/.315/.252 with no homers and five doubles. His OPS+ was just 61.

That’s not exactly somebody the Rangers want as their everyday third baseman right now, and he is probably best suited in a utility role.


When it comes to Opening Day, this is almost definitely unlikely to happen. But beyond that, a trio of versatile prospects who are in big league camp could have a chance to make their debuts this season. Josh H. Smith, Davis Wendzel and Justin Foscue, ranked as the club's No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline. are all middle infield prospects who are getting time at third base in an effort to increase versatility following the team's blockbuster signings of Corey Seager and Semien.

All three spent time in 2021 with Double-A Frisco, and Smith (No. 6) and Wendzel (No. 11), in particular, are looking to start this year with Round Rock.

Smith, a 2019 second-round Draft pick, was one of four prospects acquired in the Joey Gallo trade with the Yankees. He slashed .309/.429/.535 across four Minor League teams -- two in the Rangers’ system -- in 2021. Wendzel struggled with injuries last year, but he is fully healthy now and ready to compete.

Foscue was the Rangers' 2020 first-round Draft pick and last season was his first full year of professional ball. He also struggled a bit with injuries, but slashed .275/.371/.590 between the Arizona Complex League Rangers, High-A Hickory and Frisco.

President of baseball operations Jon Daniels has emphasized that the club won’t rush prospects before they’re ready, so Opening Day is likely out of the picture. But look for one or two of these guys in Arlington by August if they rake in Round Rock.

External options

Considering the Rangers really just need a short-term solution to hold down the position until Jung returns from injury, the likelihood the club spends significant money on a free-agent third baseman is slim to none. Texas could explore the trade market, but Daniels noted third base will not be a point of emphasis now, though the club may add if the fit is right.

With Woodward’s comment on platoon opportunities, former Rangers third baseman Charlie Culberson stands out as a possible choice. Culberson is as versatile of a player as they come. With the Rangers in 2021, he appeared at six positions, though the majority of his time was spent at third base (68 games).

The more important thing when it comes to Culberson though is his splits. Culberson rakes against lefties, sporting a .346/.376/.556 line against southpaws in 2021 compared to just .123/.206/.175 against right-handers. If there ever was a platoon guy, it’s him.

When asked if he contacted his All-Star and Gold Glove Award-winning brother Kyle, Corey Seager joked that he did ask him to come out of retirement, but Kyle was happy with his decision.

"It's almost comforting for me to know that,” Corey said. “For him to be so certain that he didn't want to come back, it was really quite happy for me to see that. He's made the right decision. He's where he wants to be and you can't blame him."

While there’s still time before the regular-season opener on April 8, it appears the Rangers are going to fill this hole internally until Jung is ready.