Throughout the offseason, discussions opened about big-name free agents, trades, where is Nick Solak going, who’s at third, among others. However, one question felt a bit dismissed. What about Isiah Kiner-Falefa? Last season, the Rangers tried to convert IKF to a backup catcher to Jeff Mathis. The experiment wasn’t a total bust, but the Rangers moved on from that little science project. After Isiah came back from an injury to his middle finger on June 6th against the Orioles, he exclusively filled in at third base. IKF missed a month of action and that June 6th date was the last time Kiner-Falefa appeared behind the plate.
Isiah’s first game back came on August 2nd and he played in 26 games in the final two months of 2019. Twenty-five of those games came at third base with a lone start at designated hitter. In 2018, Kiner-Falefa appeared at third base 46 times which was the most out of the five positions he played his rookie season (111 games total). If the Rangers were to anchor Kiner-Falefa to one infield position, then the likely candidate would be backing up Fraizer at third base. Also, the Rangers don’t have as many options at third base as they do for the right side of the infield. Plus, Chris Woodward wanted Nick Solak to get more time at center field rather than third or first.
What is Isiah’s role?
The role for Isiah Kiner-Falefa is that he is mainly a left side utility man and emergency catcher. That’s another reason that you may not see Jose Trevino on the opening day roster. Teams rarely will utilize a third primary position catcher unless they can play first base, and the Rangers will already have three players that can play catcher on the roster (Chirinos, Mathis, and Kiner-Falefa). Isiah can also provide as Elvis Andrus’ backup at short if Elvis is nursing an injury or needs a day off. I don’t see a likely scenario where Isiah Kiner-Falefa does not make the big league roster unless he completely regresses or someone out of the blue tears up Spring Training. However, the Rangers will limit IKF’s work in 2020.
— Alex Plinck (@aplinckTX) September 12, 2019
What about the Offense?
The offensive numbers went down for Isiah-Kiner Falefa in 2020. Granted, he played in half of the games due to injury, rehab, and limited playing time at catcher to start 2019. However, in the final two months of the season, Isiah’s OPS dropped from the first portion. He grounded into seven double plays in 94 at-bats (7.4% of at-bats), which is a bit alarming. The trick is the limited playing time, which will raise the difficulty for IKF to get any consistency.
If Isiah Kiner-Falefa stays healthy throughout the 2020 season, I think the Rangers will see more of the 2018 production they saw from the Hawaii native. The removal of the catcher workload will benefit IKF’s offensive game, and I believe he’s the main backup shortstop and third baseman on the Rangers roster.
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