Since Josh Jung was picked No. 8 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, nothing has exactly gone according to plan.
It started out normally enough. After getting drafted, Jung was assigned to what was then Low-A Hickory, where he slashed .287/.363/.389 through 40 games.
Then, COVID-19 halted the 2020 Minor League season. Jung was on the Rangers' taxi squad during the MLB season, and he took part in the instructional league, which was extended into November. During his first big league Spring Training in '21, Jung sustained a stress fracture in his left foot that left him sidelined for eight weeks.
At long last, the third baseman will finally join Double-A Frisco next week to kick off his 2021 season.
“I'd say the journey so far, pretty much nothing was expected, but I'm grateful for everything,” Jung said on a Zoom with reporters from the Rangers’ Arizona facility. “Being in the spot where I am now, I'm grateful for all the setbacks and all the little things, the lessons I've learned, the things I've taken away, all the conversations I've had and just the self talk, it was kind of needed. It's been a revitalizing process.”
Jung said his time in rehab -- outside of playing "Fortnite" and watching "The Clone Wars" -- was spent refining the mental side of his game. He’s always prided himself on his mental capabilities, but coming back from the fracture was unlike anything he’d done before.
Being able to let go and realize that everything isn't in his control was a big step for the club's MLB Pipeline-ranked top prospect. Jung has worked with mental performance coach Brian Cain since he was 12 years old, and Cain has helped Jung with his approach to the game of baseball.
The main takeaway was being able to visualize everything, both the successes and failures, on the baseball field.
“We've had a few talks one-on-one and he was the one that was like, ‘Hey, you need to put yourself in situations,’” Jung explained. “So I want to just kind of go through it, putting myself in situations, seeing myself make plays and having big hits. I've had successes, I've had failures. So it's like, just go out there, surrender the result, be free, be water and just have fun.”
“Be water” is a phrase that’s stuck out to Jung recently. He watched the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary of the same name about legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. It's become one of the things Jung tells himself in the box.
“Just flow and ride the wave,” Jung said. “There's going to be some days, the waves are going to be high -- ride them. Some days they're going to crash, and you're going to feel like the world's crashing on you, but just ride it out, because it'll turn.”
For someone who could have been pushing for a Major League debut at this point in the season, he’s handled it remarkably well. At 23 years old, Jung learned to perfect his own routine throughout his rehab while watching both the Rangers' big league team and the Minor League squads from Arizona.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Jung has been impressive in the conversations they’ve had and feels like they speak the same language.
“He obviously understands the game and how hard the game is now and what he has to work on,” Woodward said. “He understands the way the game is being played now is what he faces on a daily basis from a pitching standpoint.”
Jung’s rehab also included a healthy amount of physical and visual baseball work coinciding with the mental aspects of the game he emphasized. Part of that is through technology and virtual reality, like Senaptec's quad strobes to train the eye and Oculus' virtual reality device to see how certain pitches look coming through the strike zone. He's seen between 100-150 pitching on the Oculus Win Reality virtual reality system.
Jung said those new technologies definitely help with his timing in the box, which is the biggest thing he feels he needs to improve before getting the call to the big leagues.
“Being consistent [was the biggest thing I worked on],” Jung said of his work at the plate. “It's about how I can put myself in a good position, every pitch, which comes down to vision and timing. Just being able to simplify everything in the box, knowing my swing is going to play. It's all just timing to me, that's all I've been working on.”