From Rangers infielder to catcher to infielder again
In the grand scheme of things, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is still only 24 years old and has years and years of good baseball ahead of him.
Those years will be better now, he believes, even though a strong argument could be made that significant time was wasted trying to make him a catcher.
It was a near impossible task the Texas Rangers say they put in front of Kiner-Falefa, learning the game’s most demanding position at its highest level. He worked hard at it and wanted it to work.
But he and the Rangers seemed to simultaneously reach the conclusion that both would be better served if he returned to playing infield. The decision has made Kiner-Falefa the most relieved and happiest player on the Rangers’ roster, at least now that the trade deadline has passed.
He has started at third base three times since he was recalled Aug. 2 from Double A Frisco as part of a four-man overhaul of the roster. He out of the lineup Tuesday, but the Rangers and the Cleveland Indians were postponed by rain at Progressive Field.
“I get to be in my home position, and I just feel like myself again,” Kiner-Falefa said. “When I was in the minor leagues playing third I felt like the guy I was last year. When I was catching this year, I was feeling a lot of pressure just based on the pitcher’s career.
“I did everything I could to call the game the right way, be the best receiver I could possibly, and I kind of forgot everything else. I feel like my game is the little things that no one ever sees. I feel like I can get back to myself and get back to my game.”
The Rangers and Indians will play a doubleheader Wednesday, with Ariel Jurado starting Game 1 and followed by Lance Lynn. Kiner-Falefa figures to be in the lineup for at least one of the games.
He and catcher Jose Trevino were promoted to the roster last week as third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Tim Federowicz were designated for assignment. Scott Heineman and Emmanuel Clase were also called up.
General manager Jon Daniels said that the Rangers’ defense is better and the roster is more flexible with Kiner-Falefa and Trevino. Neither is going to overwhelm with the bat, though Kiner-Falefa said that his bat came alive once he started playing infield again at Frisco.
He won’t be limited to third base, and he didn’t throw his catching gear in the nearest dumpster. Manager Chris Woodward said on Monday that Kiner-Falefa might catch once every 10 games.
At the very least, Kiner-Falefa will be a really good emergency catcher.
“I’m excited to see how the bat plays now that he’s talking all the stress of catching off of him,” Woodward said. “Just kind of let him go out and see what that looks like. So, we’re going to give him some playing time.”
Kiner-Falefa quickly replied “no” when asked if he thought his time behind the plate was a waste of time. He learned how to play another position and is still confident he can handle the position if needed.
Team need might have ultimately dictated the decision, but Kiner-Falefa didn’t object.
“It was just based on what the team needed and based off the deadline,” he said. “If they needed me to catch, I was ready to catch.”
The Rangers have three utility players on their roster with Kiner-Falefa, Danny Santana and Logan Forsythe, and Heineman can play all three outfield positions. That led Woodward to say that the Rangers might be the most versatile team in baseball.
Santana has emerged as an everyday player, but hasn’t played third base much in his career. Forsythe can become a free agent after the season. Kiner-Falefa could have a role with the team for years to come, though not necessarily an everyday role.
First-round pick Josh Jung is a third baseman and could move quickly through the farm system. Santana will be given a chance to play third and could possibly be there regularly next season if the Rangers don’t add a player via free agency or trade.
Surrendering his role as one of the two catchers, along with Jeff Mathis, wasn’t easy, but being an infielder again was the right decision.
“It was hard, because I put a lot of work in,” Kiner-Falefa said. “But at the same time it’s my career. I feel like my value is to do everything. Just being the worst defensive catcher was tough. It took a lot out of me. I worked hard not to be that guy. Now, I feel comfortable.”