Kiner-Falefa makes case for Opening Day

July 15th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Chris Woodward is close to making a decision about first base.

Woodward said is making a strong case to be in the Opening Day lineup, which would mean Kiner-Falefa playing third base and Todd Frazier switching to first.

Kiner-Falefa is simply outplaying first-base candidates Ronald Guzman and Greg Bird. That appeared to be the case at the end of Spring Training, too, and it has carried over into Summer Camp.

“Isiah is making his case,” Woodward said Wednesday afternoon. “He has the edge right now. I'll be honest about that. The next six or seven games are going to be important. I'm just looking for consistent quality of at-bat, and he's given that. He's been our best guy, honestly."

Kiner-Falefa, going into Wednesday’s intrasquad game, was 10-for-27 with two home runs in Summer Camp. Bird was 4-for-32 with one home run, while Guzman had three singles in 21 at-bats after getting a late start because of travel and testing delays.

"I'm going to go about my business as if we're trying to win the World Series, because that's what we are trying to do,” Kiner-Falefa said early in camp. “If I'm the guy out there, then I'm the guy. If not, I'm still going to focus on doing what I can."

Kiner-Falefa was coming on strong at the end of Spring Training, with 11 hits in his last 20 at-bats before the shutdown. He led the Rangers in Arizona with four home runs.

“Listen, this kid is a confident kid,” Woodward said. “He is quiet and keeps to himself, but there is an inner confidence. He believes he is the best player on our team, and I’m never going to tell him that he is not. He is kind of proving it on a daily basis.

“You see a complete player who is fearless and competitive in everything. As long as he keeps doing what he is doing, he is going to be in good shape.”

The Rangers signed Frazier to be their third baseman this winter. He is a two-time All-Star at the position, but he has also played 97 games at first base in his career, and the Rangers knew that could be an option if needed. Frazier started at first base both Monday night and Wednesday night, while Kiner-Falefa played third on Wednesday.

“He looks good,” Woodward said. “I was a little bit concerned, because we really hadn’t seen it, the fact he hasn’t played over there a ton, but he looks really comfortable. We have a lot of different options. With a 30-man roster, we’ll be able to do different things.”

Woodward has spoken to Frazier about the possibility of playing first so Kiner-Falefa can be in the lineup.

“He is open to it,” Woodward said. “He wants to win. He doesn’t care. He sees what Kiner is doing. Everybody does. I don’t think anybody is surprised by the move. I told him in Spring Training, when Kiner was doing well, this could become an option, if Kiner forces our hand.

“We are kind of at that point right now.”

Guzman and/or Bird could still play a key role on the team as a late-inning defensive replacement.

“I think Guzy's a better defender than anybody in baseball, in my opinion, just because of his length and his ability to catch the baseball,” Woodward said. “We've all seen the flexibility that he has, but Birdie actually has been really impressive to me. I don't think [Guzmán] is as far ahead as you think, because I actually value Birdie's defense pretty highly as well.”