If it hadn’t been for injuries, we’d have been talking about Josh Jung’s arrival in the big leagues quite some time ago, and he would have long since graduated from prospect lists.
The Rangers' top prospect (MLB No. 39) became the second Texas Tech player selected in the first round when the Rangers took him No. 8 overall in the 2019 Draft (his younger brother, Jace, became the third this past July) as one of the better college hitters in the class. He left the Red Raiders with an impressive .348/.455/.577 line, and whenever he’s been healthy, he’s pretty much hit as expected.
During his summer pro debut, spent almost entirely with Single-A Hickory, Jung hit .316/.389/.443, giving the Rangers hope he could fulfill his potential as an advanced college bat who would move quickly through the system. The pandemic put a hold on any progress, but Jung used his time at the Rangers’ alternate site to work on his ability to drive the ball after slugging just .389 with Hickory in 2019. His focus was on lifting the ball more, particularly to his pull side.
The work paid off as he slugged .592 in 2021 between Double-A and Triple-A, finishing with 19 homers without sacrificing any of his advanced approach (.398 OBP and striking out in just 22.2 percent of his plate appearances). But he was limited to 78 games between a stress fracture in his foot and COVID protocols, possibly costing him the chance of a callup to Texas.
Despite just having 478 professional at-bats under his belt, the Rangers thought he was ready to compete for the big league third base job this past spring. But again, the injury bug hit when he tore his left labrum lifting weights in February. Instead of making the Opening Day lineup, he was forced to have surgery and ended up on the 60-day injured list.
He finally returned in late July and got back to Triple-A on Aug. 9, and the 24-year old slugged .525 in 23 games before finally getting the call. The plate discipline and strikeout rate weren't what they've been throughout Jung's career, but chalk that up to shaking the rust off. Rangers fans should fully expect a very complete hitter when he makes his debut on Friday and beyond.
During his time with Round Rock in 2021 and 2022, Jung consistently showed the ability to put his swing changes to good use, hitting line drives or fly balls a majority of the time. That allowed him to use all of his impressive hitting tools, from his innate ability to make contact to his strong knowledge of the strike zone, to get to his power more consistently. He’s hit .316 and slugged .598 in 58 Triple-A games, and while it might not be fair to expect that right out of the gate, seeing him hit .300 annually with pop isn’t outlandish. In his Minor League career, Jung has played 153 games, very close to a full big league season. He’s hit .311/.381/.538 with 30 homers and 118 RBIs combined and while that might create lofty expectations in the big leagues, it also includes his 2019 numbers when he struggled to drive the ball.
If you want to be conservative with his eventual offensive output, predicting he might hit .300 with 20 or more homers annually seems fair. And that’s more than enough to profile well at third, which is his spot for as long as he shows he can produce there. He doesn’t run well, but he’s athletic enough to play the hot corner well, with good instincts and hands and more than enough arm. Jung saw time at shortstop, second and the outfield at the alternate site. That’s not to say he’s going to move around; his presence in Texas will, for the time being, turn Ezequiel Duran into that kind of player. It’s more to point out his surprising athleticism and how those experiences have helped him become a better third baseman.