'Whirlwind of emotions' for Jung ahead of debut

After shoulder surgery pushed back callup, Texas' top prospect set to begin MLB career

September 8th, 2022

ARLINGTON -- Josh Jung recalls entering Minor League camp back in February on a high.

The Rangers’ top prospect, Jung had a chance to compete to be the club’s Opening Day third baseman and play alongside Texas’ newly-signed middle infield duo of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Instead, Jung injured his left shoulder weightlifting before the big leaguers even made it to Arizona and had to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum, delaying his potential debut.

Now, after months of rehab and an eventual return to the baseball field, Jung will finally get that chance as he prepares to make his MLB debut on Friday when the Rangers face off against the Blue Jays at Globe Life Field.

“It was a complete 180,” Jung said of the last six months. “Going from on the super high coming into camp, to ‘Oh snap, I'm not going to play this year,’ to actually getting out to play games in Arizona and getting to an affiliate, and now getting a chance up here in the big leagues. I can't even really describe it. It's just a whirlwind of emotions that I've gone through the past six, seven months.”

Jung, who was the Rangers’ top selection in the 2019 MLB Draft (No. 8 overall pick), has been knocking at the big league door for the better part of two years now. In 2021, he slashed .326/.398/.592 (.990 OPS) between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock in just 78 games due to a stress fracture in his left foot.

The anticipation has been mounting, and it took a little longer than Jung would have wanted due to setbacks out of his control, notably the Sept. 1 callup he didn’t receive.

Jung -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 39 overall prospect -- acknowledges that maybe he was expecting the callup when rosters expanded, and perhaps that lack of a callup did affect his play for the first few days of the month. In August, Jung slashed .311/.363/.635 with a .998 OPS, six home runs and 23 RBIs with Triple-A Round Rock. In six September games, that slash line was .160/.192/.200 with a .392 OPS, no home runs and one RBI.

“I wouldn't say there was disappointment [in not being called up], but for me in my head, it was like, ‘OK, do more,’ and trying to do more led to me doing way less,” Jung said. “ I think that was the biggest thing that I learned from that moment. … That's when everything kind of fell apart.

“The other thing is too, I'm coming off shoulder surgery. So having success is great, but then you start trying to continue that and build with that. This is baseball. It's going to humble you pretty quickly. I kind of got into this rhythm of trying to chase old feels, like the stuff that I felt last year that made me successful, but I keep forgetting sometimes it's like, ‘Hey, you have a new shoulder, and probably [don’t] feel exactly the same way that you did a year ago.’ So it's just that daily grind of figuring out what works for me and bringing that to the box.”

Speaking on Thursday at Globe Life Field ahead of his MLB debut, Jung readily admitted to being nervous for the next day. 

“It's everything I've ever been working for my entire life, so absolutely,” he said.

He’s aware of the hype surrounding him and the anticipation the fanbase feels with a home grown infielder making his debut and the potential of a star everyday third baseman for the first time since Adrián Beltré retired in 2018.

But these next three weeks are about getting his feet wet and learning the ropes at the big league level. Any additional successes would be the cherry on top.

“I’m not setting expectations for myself too high,” Jung said. “ And I think the biggest trap for athletes in general is thinking that everybody has these super high expectations and trying to meet every single person’s expectations. For me, it's just kind of setting some goals for myself and then just trying to accomplish one at a time and just take it one step at a time. Because there's going to be some rocky points for sure.”