Kiner-Falefa on move to SS: 'It's exciting'

April 11th, 2021

ARLINGTON -- says he feels like he's 12 years old when he steps on the baseball field this season. The offseason move to shortstop from third base has made the game that much more fun for him.

Shortstop is Kiner-Falefa’s natural position, but since his Major League debut in 2018, he’s mostly been used in a utility role. He was an American League Gold Glove Award winner at third base in 2020 before making the full transition to short.

He said that not having to try to push himself to play out of position at third base or catcher like he did in 2019 has made him more loose and comfortable in all aspects of his game.

“I feel like I'm able to make plays that other guys can’t make,” Kiner-Falefa said. “Just having that opportunity to be out there, it's exciting. I'm just visualizing games, so I feel like a big baby. It's really helped me just enjoy where I'm at and just be in the moment. I think sometimes I take things for granted based on trying to produce. It's really been a blessing and it's helping me to take my game to the next level.”

Kiner-Falefa and starting second baseman Nick Solak have worked in particular on the double-play combination, hoping to establish the chemistry to turn them more smoothly. Rangers pitcher Jordan Lyles had a front seat to watching that chemistry in motion on Saturday.

The Rangers turned four double plays in the second game of their three-game set against San Diego, three of which came with Lyles on the mound.

“Obviously, he’s got some gold over at third base, and he has done anything and everything moving over [to shortstop] so far in spring and a week or two to start the season,” Lyles said. "It's been amazing. He's been doing it all year, like I said, and he's amazing. He never disappoints. I've been around a lot of good infielders in my career and he's one that’s at the top.”

The comfort Kiner-Falefa now enjoys in the field has translated offensively as well. He has batted in the leadoff spot in every game this season, producing a .273/.314/.515 slash line.

Where he bats in the lineup doesn’t mean much to him, but Kiner-Falefa said watching veteran Rangers players like Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus in the last few years has shown him what approach to take as the leadoff hitter.

“I came up being a bench player my whole [MLB] career, always scratching and clawing just for any opportunity I could get,” Kiner-Falefa said. “So for me, this is the first year I actually started on top of the lineup. I think it's just [getting the opportunity]."

According to Statcast, Kiner-Falefa’s 413-foot home run against the Padres was the furthest-hit ball of his career, while the 107.9 mph exit velocity produced on it matched his career high.

Kiner-Falefa said he expected that extra power to show up last April, before COVID-19 shut down the league temporarily. After the restart in the summer, he wasn’t able to do what he expected. He batted .280 through the 60-game season, but only hit three home runs.

With a double and the home run, Kiner-Falefa also notched his first game with multiple extra-base hits since he had two doubles against the Mariners on Aug. 8, 2018. He’s currently ranked among the best leadoff hitters in MLB with six RBIs (T4) and two home runs (T5).

“Trusting myself, I think that's the biggest factor this year,” Kiner-Falefa said. “Last year, I knew it was in there. But, like I had to force it out, just being a third baseman and looking across the diamond and seeing guys like [Anthony] Rendon and [Nolan] Arenado. Moving over to shortstop, it just takes a lot of anxiety away from me.”