Jung hopes for Rangers' debut in '22

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Former Texas Tech all-American Josh Jung batted .326 last season in 78 games for Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He could make his big-league debut this year with the Texas Rangers.
Former Texas Tech all-American Josh Jung batted .326 last season in 78 games for Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He could make his big-league debut this year with the Texas Rangers.

Josh Jung achieved a lot of his objectives during his 2021 season with two Texas Rangers' minor-league affiliates.

Now, like every other player in affiliated professional baseball, he'd just like to know when the 2022 campaign — spring training and the season — starts. Since early October, the former Texas Tech all-American has been mostly at his off-season home in Lubbock, and as February approaches, he's getting antsy.

"I think at some point we're going to play," Jung said Wednesday, which was day 56 of the Major League Baseball lockout. "But especially from a Minor League standpoint, that's going to happen regardless. I just can't wait to compete, honestly, because this has been the longest I've gone without competing, and Fortnite's not doing it for me anymore, so I need to start playing some ball."

Jung was part of the program at the Memorial Civic Center for the First Pitch Luncheon, the annual season preview of the Rangers, Texas Tech and Lubbock Christian University baseball teams.

In 78 games last season divided almost equally between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, Jung batted .326 with 19 home runs and 61 runs batted in. The 19 homers were notable, given that at this time last year, one of his primary goals for 2021 was to get better at pulling pitches in the air — a change from the gap-to-gap hard line-drive approach that made him an all-American and the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 draft.

"I started the year hurt," he said, referring to a foot injury, "but I had a really good season, and I did pretty much exactly what I wanted to do, especially with pull-side (hitting the ball in the) air. I think that was the first time in my life where I hit more pull-side homers than opposite-field homers, so it was cool.

"I was very happy with where I was last year, and so this off-season it's just been, 'Stay consistent. Get better, but stay consistent.' "

Where he'll have a locker in 2022 is the biggest question.

Jung, who turns 24 on Feb. 12, is ranked No. 2 by MLB.com on the Rangers' top 30 prospects list and No. 48 overall in minor-league baseball. He figures to start the season either back in Triple-A or, if he rakes, making his major-league debut.

The Rangers' free-agent signings of All-Star middle infielders Marcus Semien and Corey Seager pushes shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa back to third base, where he won a Gold Glove during the pandemic-delayed 2020 season.

Jung and Kiner-Falefa figure to fight it out for the starting third-base job to open the season. If Jung needs more development, Kiner-Falefa gives the Rangers a strong glove at third. If Jung's ready, he could make his major-league debut early in the season.

"I hope so," he said, "but I'm just going to be the best version of myself and then whatever happens, happens. But I am trying to go out and win a job in spring training."

Major League owners imposed a lockout on Dec. 2 with commissioner Rob Manfred hoping it would jump-start negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that had just expired. So far, there's been no new agreement.

Just before the lockout, Texas spent a half-billion dollars to sign Semien, who won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards last season, and Seager, a two-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger winner and NLCS and World Series MVP.

"It's huge," Jung said. "Going out and spending that money, seeing (Jon Daniels) and (Chris Young) commit to the plan of getting better and bringing in guys, it's something that you want as a young player, especially coming up through the ranks.

"They are committed to winning. They're wanting to win now. And so being on the brink of my debut, it's really cool to see they're investing in those pieces to try to make us better."

Semien's two best years came in the past two full seasons: a .285 average with 33 homers and 92 RBI in 2019 with Oakland and a .265 average with 45 homers and 102 RBI last season with Toronto. He played the full 162 games both years.

Seager was plagued by injuries during his seven years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he's a .297 career hitter who's batted .300 three times and finished among the top 20 in MVP voting three times.

The Rangers signed Semien for seven years and $175 million, then landed Seager for 10 years and $325 million.

Someday soon, Jung could be playing alongside them.

"There's nothing you can't learn from those guys is what it's going to feel like," Jung said. "Especially being a young guy, just soaking up all the knowledge they have, I really cannot wait for that to happen. Getting into the trenches with them, I think, will be a lot of fun."

Johnson wins Segrist Award

David Johnson, who's been involved in baseball as a player, coach and umpire, was presented with the annual Kal Segrist Lifetime Achievement Award during Wednesday's luncheon.

Johnson is a Lubbock ISD administrator, having served as principal at DAEP, the Priority Intervention Academy for LISD, since 2015.

He played at baseball Coronado, graduating in 1984, and began coaching in Little League in 1986. He became a high-school coach in 1992, serving as head baseball coach at Tahoka and Crosbyton and as an assistant at New Deal and Coronado. He also was a middle-school coach at O.L. Slaton and Irons.

From 1999 through 2007, Johnson's youth baseball teams won five city championships and he took three all-star teams to the state tournament.

Johnson, an umpire for more than 20 years and a basketball official from 1984 to 2004, was chosen to work UIL state tournaments as a baseball umpire in 2016 and 2017 and as a basketball official in 2012.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Baseball: Josh Jung hopes for Major League debut in '22