Dynasty BaseballTriple Play

TDG’S Triple Play: Texas Rangers!

The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!

This week I (@barrington_phil) am joined by Chris Knock(@notnotcknock) and Andrew Jurewicz(@amoney2727), follow us on Twitter and send us any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.

Josh Jung, Age: 25, Position: 3B

Analysis by: Chris Knock

I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, Josh Jung feels like he’s an eight-year veteran. Not based on his statistics or production necessarily..but just the concept of him as a big-league third baseman feels like it’s been a thing for way longer than it actually has.

In reality, Jung’s been a professional baseball player for not even four years. He was selected #8 overall in the 2019 draft by the Texas Rangers. While attending Texas Tech, he was known as a hit-over-power type, and during his development in the minors, this continued to define him. While coming up in the Rangers organization, he often batted near or above .300 and never hit more than 20 home runs in a season. 

Jung Man Strength

Though in somewhat small minor-league samples, you can find examples of where his power started to show. In his first taste of Triple-A baseball in 2021, Jung rocked a .304 ISO and a 166 wRC+. Both of those are excellent and considering he batted .348 during that 35-game sample the ISO is even more impressive. 

Then last year, while rehabbing in Triple-A after his shoulder surgery, he hit six homers in 106 plate appearances. As expected while recovering from the injury, Jung wasn’t hitting the ball into the air as much compared to ‘21. His overall FB% was down but he still had a HR/FB ratio of 25% which was great to see. He also seemed to be trying to show he was healthy as his pull rate during the rehab stint was almost 45%. For the majority of his professional career up to that point, Jung was more of an all-fields type hitter.

Jung and the Restless

And this same approach change also bled into his MLB debut last season. This is just my raw assumption based on results and clips, but Jung’s approach was completely different last year compared to his MiLB stats. Last year he struck out at a 28% rate in Triple-A and a 38% rate during his first 26 MLB games. Prior to ‘22, Jung’s worst K-rate was 22.6% during his first professional season. As I mentioned above, his former all fields power disappeared last year as well. In the Majors, he was essentially a dead pull bat with almost 50% of his batted balls going to the left side.

This poor season seems easily explainable with a more humanistic eye – the kid wanted to show what he could do after getting a serious injury. He forced his approach to change while pressing and the results spoke for themselves. Luckily for Jung and the Rangers, this approach hasn’t lasted. And luckily for us astute dynasty baseball players, the improvements have seemingly gone unnoticed.

Jung Love

35 games into the 2023 season, Josh Jung hasn’t yet hit his stride but is improving in the underlying facets that defined his offensive profile until last year. A quick look under the hood of his stats shows he’s hitting the ball hard while not out over his skis in terms of production. Yeah, he still has a K-rate north of 30% and a walk-rate on the wrong side of 6%. But this is after maybe a half-season total of MLB plate appearances under his belt.

What I like to notice is how well he’s avoiding weak contact while spraying the ball. Jung’s soft hit rate is wonderfully low (almost 10% entering his game on 5/12). Meanwhile, he’s pulling the ball at only a 40% rate and hitting nearly 27% of balls to the opposite field. That 31% K-rate isn’t pretty, but it’s an improvement on his 38% last year. I think his walk rate will also improve closer to the 10% rate he showed multiple times in the minors. Comparing last year’s end-of-season MLB taste to this year’s start, he’s not chasing as many pitches outside the zone. 

On the surface, his eight home runs and (almost) 50 R+RBIs aren’t too shabby for this point in the season. I won’t extrapolate here, but if Josh Jung ended up with 25 homers and 150 R+RBIs I don’t think anyone would be surprised or upset. Likely no Twitter threads would break down his productive season. This is despite that only eight other third basemen supplied that production in ‘22. Several of those names are not replicating the same seasons they did last year. And none are at the start of their careers. Jung’s batted ball profile continues to shift back to match his hit-tool-defined MiLB profile. If his power output sticks while he improves his average and walk rates? Oh, baby, we got a stew going.

Will Smith, Age: 33, Position: RP

Analysis by: Phil Barrington

Six Degrees of Separation

If you had Will Smith as leading the Rangers in saves six weeks into the 2023 season on your preseason prediction list, I salute you. I voted first for Joe Barlow, then for Jonathan Hernandez, most recently Jose Leclerc. But that all have fallen by the wayside, and now, William Michael Smith, the most originally American name in the history or American names, stands atop the closer mountain in Texas.

Smith has come a long way from Northgate HS in Newnan, Georgia. After one year of community college in Florida the Angels thought enough of the lefty to take him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. He was traded to the Royals in July 2010; it was two more seasons until Smith made his debut in 2012. The Royals tried him as a starter to less than ideal results. Two seasons later he was traded to Milwaukee, and two seasons after that the Giants needed a lefty reliver so brought Smith to town.

I am Legend

Smith shined in the Bay, peaking with a 34-save All-Star season in 2019. He also compiled a 2.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and a K/BB of 4.57 in his walk year. Good timing, because Smith signed a three-year, $39 million deal early in the 2020 off-season with the Braves. Two and a half successful seasons in Atlanta (and one World Series ring) later, Smith was on the move again, this time in a deadline deal to Houston.  He earned a ring for the second straight year (though, didn’t pitch in the playoffs for the team). Does he strike gold again and bode well for Texas this season? They need some pitching, sure, but have the minor leaguers to get some.

Wild Wild West

The Rangers are a few games ahead of the Astros for first place in the AL West as of this writing; if they stay in the race, there is no reason for Smith to move. Also in the plus column for Smith keeping his job: prior successful closer experience, a few lefties in the pen already (and one, Brock Burke, who has shined thus far), Smith is 15th overall with 99 career saves among active players and saved 37 for the Braves in 2021.

In the negative column: the Rangers haven’t shown a lot of patience for closers when they falter, and being a lefty might make Smith more utilized in earlier, higher leverage situations; if the Rangers falter Smith is a prime trade candidate to what would be his seventh franchise.

A career strikeout rate of 10.81 is good but the walk rate of 3.34 has held Smith back from being an elite closer. This season thus far he is striking out more hitters (11.30) but with a walk rate not that much lower than his career rate (3.14). Furthermore, a HR/FB rate of 5% is way lower than his career 13% and lower BABIP in 2023 of .273 compared to a career .300 shows a bit of luck is in play as well.

Pursuit of Happyness

I am selling high here; in a Saves + Holds league I would trade Smith if I could get enough back (say a 1st round pick?) but in Saves only or my favorite, Saves x 2 + Holds, I would also consider moving him; once moved, I would add Burke (although two straight poor appearances may cause one pause).

Kumar Rocker, Age: 23, Position: SP, Level: High-A

Analysis by: Andrew Jurewicz

What is that, like, five O’s or two U’s?

Just one U. Man, I can’t believe Harold and Kumar took a trip to White Castle nearly 20 years ago…as a New Jersey native this movie, and White Castle, will always have a special place in my heart. Now onto our main character who’s had quite an adventure himself so far, Kumar Rocker! 

Flashing back to 2019, Rocker quickly established himself as an ace at Vanderbilt University during his freshman season which included throwing a 19 strikeout no hitter in the NCAA tournament and a national championship. How did he get it done? How about a mid to high 90’s fastball and a plus slider that sat down SEC hitters regularly; sounds like a recipe for success. Overall at Vanderbilt he threw 236.2 innings with 321 strikeouts sporting a 2.98 ERA and 1.00 WHIP putting himself in a great position to be one of the top names called in the 2021 draft. 

All Beef Slider

On that fateful evening Uncle Stevie and the New York Mets were hungry and decided they wanted some of those famous sliders Rocker was serving up, making him the 10th overall selection with reportedly a $6 million dollar signing bonus. Apparently the team doctors had some beef with this after finding out those bad boys might not be that great for the team’s long term health. After disagreements it was decided they should walk away and save themselves some money to eat next year. A minor shoulder surgery did follow a few months later so perhaps they were onto something. Since no agreement was made a compensation pick was in order for the following year’s draft; the Mets selected Georgia Tech Catcher, Kevin Parada, 11th overall. So now those two are linked forever to see who was the better decision! 

Flipping into 2022, Rocker reportedly came back healthy after a short stint in the independent Frontier League and the Rangers scooped him up 3rd overall and signed to a $5.2 million bonus which was about $2.3 million under slot. The Ranger’s rested him and debuted with a new more upright delivery in the Arizona Fall League later that year that’s throwing from a noticeably lower arm slot than in year’s past, assuming that is so there would be less stress on the arm and shoulder. Rocker has since started the 2023 season at a semi-age appropriate High-A Hickory and the early going has been encouraging through his first 6 starts posting a 3.86 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 28 innings pitched with 42 strikeouts. 

Fries with that?

The fastball-slider combo has been working out, however, key to his success will be  development of a third quality pitch to challenge more advanced hitters as well as staying healthy to continue said development to keep up with his peers. As of now that pitch looks to be a change-up that shows some promise to be a serviceable offering.

(editors note: We learned of Rocker’s tommy john surgery shortly before this was finished; to respect the authors work, we posted it…and you may even be able to buy low on him in a rebuild?)

The Author

Phil Barrington

Phil Barrington

Fantasy player since 1999, specializing in OPS leagues. Accountant by day, fantasy writer by night. Spreadsheets are life.

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