There is a lot of uncertainty coming within the next three months before spring training and even throughout March. There are a few Texas Rangers who are on the verge to “jump the hump” in 2019. In adding new personnel to the coaching staff, these two Rangers show they are ready to take the next step.
Some of you fine folks may see 2018 as a disappointment for the Rangers slugger Joey Gallo. Contrary to belief, Gallo improved in many areas this past season, and 2019 may see a higher leap. This past year, Joey made contact at a 61.7%, highest of his MLB career along with a whiff percentage that decreased to 18.4%, lowest of his MLB career. Joey also sprayed the field more in his hits. Gallo distributed batted baseballs in all three directions (pull, opposite field, and center) at a rate of 23.5% or better. In his four-year big league career, Gallo had never scattered the ball to all fields that evenly. Finally, even though numerically Joey Gallo struck out more than last year, he reduced his strikeout rate by 0.9%. It is a small decline, but a decline and an improvement to build on.
All of these positive ratio trends are nice, but it paints the bigger picture. Gallo is only 25 and entering his fifth big league season (third full). With that said, there is still much more growth and develop upcoming for Joey. However, the trends towards producing more contact and distributing that contact evenly to all fields create a dangerous and “crazy” Joey Gallo (the good kind). It is those aspects that will convince Chris Woodward to insert Joey as an everyday cleanup hitter. In addition, Luis Ortiz’s philosophy of plate recognition will benefit Gallo immensely. The technique will not change his hitter persona or his swing, and the benefit will intend to add to Gallo’s strengths and could cut those ghastly strikeouts. Despite the rumors going around, the only way the Rangers should deal Gallo is if they can get a once in a lifetime Black Friday deal in prospects.
I know a whole bunch of people did not care for the Jeff Mathis acquisition (see the Rangers Instagram post comments). However, it was a smart move on the Rangers part if their goal is to develop a young catching core. With the departure of Robinson Chirinos, the Rangers decided to bring in a defensive guru behind the dish in Mathis. This brought back to a similar situation in 2009 when the Rangers helped out a rookie by the name of Elvis Andrus (you heard of him, right?). They helped Elvis by bringing in a shortstop legend in Omar Vizquel. Now I’m not comparing the careers of Jeff Mathis and Omar Vizquel, but it is the same ideology.
In 2018, IKF was 17th between MLB catchers who registered more than 300 innings in caught stealing percentage at 32%. It’s impressive considering Isiah didn’t start catching professionally until 2016 with Frisco. Isiah also didn’t catch more than 280 innings in a season in the minors. This season, the Rangers could look to commit to IKF as a full-time catcher which will give him not only the essentials defensively but to aid with these young pitchers. In 2018, Isiah’s catcher ERA was 4.57, only 0.43 above league average (Rangers overall team ERA in 2018 was 4.92). For a part-time rookie catcher working with this core of young pitchers, it is impressive. Offensively, IKF was 13th among all MLB backstops in batting average (.262 while at catcher)
There are two common denominators between these two, their youth and versatility. Both players saw action at four different positions in 2018, but it sounds like the Rangers want to lock these guys up each at a specific spot on the field. With the new Rangers philosophy, Joey Gallo and Isiah Kiner-Falefa seem like they will benefit the most, making these two an exciting duo to watch every day.
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