The Arizona League couldn’t handle the Texas Rangers’ first-round draft choice in 2019, and they knew it.
But he had been off the field for a while, from the end of the College World Series and through the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s for his first professional contract, and the Rangers wanted him to see some pitches before moving him to where he belonged.
The eighth overall pick was headed to North Carolina for another playoff chase for which he was expected to be an integral part.
Josh Jung, the No. 3 player in the Star-Telegram’s ranking of the top 10 Rangers prospects, was just that.
No. 3: Josh Jung, 3B
Age: 21 (Feb. 12, 1998)
Weight: 215 pounds
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How acquired: 1st round, 2019 draft
The Hickory Crawdads didn’t have a problem at third base. They had Sherten Apostel, whose stock has risen into the top 10 of many prospect rankings, and were fighting for the South Atlantic League postseason.
Conveniently, he was in need of a promotion at the time Josh Jung was in need of a permanent spot to launch his professional career after a wildly successful college career at Texas Tech.
Apostel went to High A Down East, which was also in playoff team, and Jung landed at Low A Hickory.
“He came in where he had just gone through a championship run and got plugged into another championship run,” Hickory manager Matt Hagen said. “It wasn’t anything new to him. We plugged into the No. 2 or No. 3 hole, and he helped us a lot.”
The Rangers have very little concern about Jung, who is pleased with his first professional season. They believe he can play third base and hit for average and power thanks to his combination of talent with an advanced approach.
The power will come. Jung hit only one home run in 40 Low A games, but he bagged 13 doubles. From that comes one of his primary off-season projects.
It’s probably not what many would expect.
“Just getting more consistent with the bat,” said Jung, who participated in the Futures Camp earlier this month at Globe Life Park. “Finding the sweet spot. Finding which bat I like the best, because I was using all kinds of bats. So, really it will be just finding the sweet spot more consistently.”
The transition from metal bats used in the NCAA to the wood bats in pro ball is a legitimate issue. Jung had played with wooden bats in summer leagues and felt he did well with them this season.
But he admitted that he didn’t find the barrel regularly. Some of that is the quality of pitching, where he was facing potential MLB-caliber arms every game and not just a couple times a week as was the case in college.
And there’s this:
“Wood bats can break,” he said.
The Rangers, though, expect that Jung will hit and hit and hit some more this off-season until he finds the right bat for him. His power will continue to develop as he continues to develop as a hitter.
Jung posted a .287/.363./389 slashline in 157 at-bats. He spent 37 of his 40 games batting either second (15) or third, but he never batted lower than fifth.
“He’s got an advance ability to control the strike zone,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “There’s more power that he will develop of the next year or two. He certainly held his own.”
The Rangers will be in the market for a third baseman this off-season, with Anthony Rendon the big prize in agency. Daniels said that the Rangers aren’t going to hold open third base for Jung and that he still must earn the chance to play in the big leagues.
He could move quickly through the minors, thanks to the polish he brought with him from Lubbock and his willingness to work and, apparently, find the right bat.
“The work ethic is second to none,” Hagen said. “He’s a high-character young man.”
Top 10 Rangers prospects
No. 10: Sherten Apostel, 3B
No. 9: Nick Solak, 2B
No. 8: Joe Palumbo, LHP
No. 7: Ricky Vanasco, RHP
No. 6: Leody Taveras, CF
No. 5: Cole Winn, RHP
No. 4: Bubba Thompson, CF
No. 3: Josh Jung, 3B
No. 2: Monday
No. 1: Tuesday