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The Surprise Five didn’t get much work last spring, like everyone else, and was late getting to camp this year.
Like a few players, there were visa issues to work around. The Texas Rangers didn’t clear the media until Monday for the first full-squad workout, unlike a typical spring in which access begins on report day for pitchers and catchers.
Everything is different in what hopefully are the waning days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The players are hoping that happens once shots open to the general public.
Until then, they are masked up and talking to media only on Zoom and the phone.
That’s fine. The Surprise Five is of the opinion that media isn’t entitled to anything above and beyond, which might run against public perception of the industry.
Besides, the Rangers are always generating enough news to print.
To that end, here’s the initial go-round of the Surprise Five.
Josh Jung Zooms
Josh Jung was the first player up Wednesday on the Zoom channel. The Rangers’ top prospect is the most intriguing player in camp, and I’m not sure there’s a close second.
The third baseman also is now the leader among players for lengthiest Zoom call.
His answers were thorough on a number of topics, including the state of Texas Tech baseball after their 0-3 showing at Globe Life Field over the weekend. His brother, Jace, plays for the Red Raiders.
The questions that had Jung, the Rangers’ 2019 first-round pick, the most excited were about work ethic. Manager Chris Woodward said he isn’t so much watching how many homers Jung hits, but the work that leads to those home runs.
Hearing that was like a fastball down the middle.
“My M.O. has been my work ethic throughout my entire little career through high school, college and now in the pro ball,” Jung said. “I think it’s pretty cool to be known as a hard worker. I think that’s something that you don’t see a ton of.”
The Rangers have fed into that, intentionally or not, with the concept of “training dirty.” The term tells players not to be afraid to conquer their on-field demons and work until they are conquered.
“That’s pretty much our motto,” Jung said. “It’s like, train dirty to play clean. Basically make your training harder than the game. That way the game seems easier.”
To “train clean” means work on the feel-good stuff, like flips in the cage, Jung said. But to “train dirty” is to set up a pitching machine that throws the pitches a player can’t hit and keep doing it until there’s improvement.
“’Training dirty’ is basically not being afraid to fail,” Jung said.
The Rangers have said that Jung is almost certain to start the season in the minor leagues, but he hasn’t been told that and isn’t going to let the opportunity of being in his first big-league camp slip away.
“To say it’s not one of my goals would be wrong,” he said. “I would love to start Opening Day on the roster.”
So long, Choo (for now)
Shin-Soo Choo has made the Opening Day roster ... of SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization.
He wanted to remain in the major leagues and said he had offers from as many as eight teams, some of them likely playoff teams. But they didn’t want to guarantee him steady playing time and they didn’t want to pay him as much as others with his skill set were getting paid.
So, he left for Korea on Wednesday. Once there, he will begin a mandatory two-week quarantine before beginning spring training.
He’s excited. He gets to play in front of his parents for the first time as a professional and play before fans in his home country who think he’s awesome.
Choo, who became a free agent after his seven-year, $130 million Rangers contract ended last season, is the most successful Korean player in MLB history. However, he also left his mark on his teams for who he is as a person and a teammate.
Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa said no one outside of the clubhouse knows all that Choo did for young players. Woodward admires Choo for his generosity to the community and the love he has for family.
Remember, things didn’t get off to a great start between Choo and Woodward, who benched Choo for the 2019 season opener. It was a slap in the face, but they found the same page eventually.
“We had some tough conversations,” Woodward said. “But internally, man, they don’t come any better. Honestly, he’s such a quality human being. What he does in the community. You can’t even describe it, and there’s so many things that people don’t know he does.”
Choo turns 39 in July, but he isn’t ready to say this will be his final season. He might end up playing again in Korea. His hope is that an MLB team watches him this season and wants him in 2022.
Don’t put it past him.
Kennedy signing: Good or bad?
The Rangers signed right-hander Ian Kennedy to a minor-league contract that will pay him $2.15 million if he’s on the Opening Day roster. He has to compete for a job, the Rangers say, but it sure seems like he’s a lock even though he hasn’t thrown a pitch yet.
He will take one spot from a young reliever, which seems contrary to what a rebuilding team would want to do. Veterans don’t seem to have as much value or purpose as a prospect.
On the other hand ...
Kennedy could give the Rangers the flexibility to send a young reliever to the minors for an extra dash of seasoning, perhaps just enough to be ready in case of an injury or another young arm gets exposed.
Kennedy could also fit in as the closer, a spot that doesn’t seem to be all that defined. Woodward said last week that no reliever, not even Jose Leclerc, has been given the closer role.
It’s also entirely possible that Leclerc is traded at some point and the Rangers would need another reliable reliever at the back of the bullpen.
Furthermore, if Kennedy pitches well, perhaps he is traded at some point to add some more depth to the farm system.
Hey, the Surprise Five likes this signing.
Arihara vs. lefties
Kohei Arihara faced Rougned Odor, Ronald Guzman, Eli White and Nate Lowe, in that order, during his first live bullpen session in a Rangers uniform.
White was the only right-handed hitter, and the only hitter Arihara didn’t strike out.
His off-speed pitches against lefties could be weapons for him.
It might be too late to stop the Odor and Guzman jokes, and the Surprise Fives gets it with Odor. Guzman, though, has had only a brief hiatus from his MVP run in the Dominican Winter League and should be one of the Rangers’ best hitters early in camp.
Odor and Guzman was tripped up by Arihara’s split-fingered fastball, which he said has gotten better thanks to an adjustment gripping the baseball. He also liked the way his changeup was working.
Arihara also has a slider and curveball, and as Lowe discovered, a fastball that’s tough to hit when it’s thrown at the top of the strike zone.
That’s one of the pitches the Rangers suggested Arihara throw, and he’s already seeing results with it.
“There was one high fastball that I did really well, a good height coefficient,” Arihara said. “So if I can keep this up it will be beneficial for me throughout the season as well.”
The Star-Telegram Surprise Bureau has been cranking out some pretty good stuff so far this spring, not that there’s any bias involved in that evaluation.
Here are some links to help get you caught up:
Jose Trevino wants to meet new teammates in the parking lot.