2021 Texas Rangers Position Review: Shortstop

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The Texas Rangers entered the 2021 season with plenty of positions up for grabs. Only a select few were already claimed when spring training opened, and the shortstop was one of them.

After Isiah Kiner-Falefa put on a defensive show at third base in 2020 and was rewarded with a Gold Glove for that performance, Rangers opted to move from longtime shortstop Elvis Andrus and cede the position to the native Hawaiian. Kiner-Falefa is a natural shortstop and was looking to become the first player in history to win a Golden Glove at third base and shortstop.

After the first two months of the season, it looked like Kiner-Falefa might succeed. His defensive metrics were among the league leaders across the board, and he was hitting well enough to put him among the likes of Carlos Correa and other bWAR All-Star shortstops. As All-Star voting drew to a close, Kiner-Falefa had built a solid case for himself.

However, he missed the cut for the Midsummer Classic. Meanwhile, his home plate performance plummeted during the summer months. Kiner-Falefa sported a .730 OPS at the end of May, but fell to a season low of .634 on August 3. Meanwhile, Kiner-Falefa said he felt like he was “drowning” and called it one of the toughest moments of his career.

“When I was there, I didn’t know if I could make it,” Kiner-Falefa said. “That was the most important part. It was almost like a trap. I just trapped myself. I was thinking small. I was thinking about things that might happen in the future instead of understanding that if I take it day by day day, I can overcome it. I am a good player, but I did not allow myself to be good because my thoughts were not good.

Kiner-Falefa focused on the things he can do well and then bounced back in the final two months of the season, posting a .307/.358/.382/.740 slash line during that period. Although his defense remained at an elite level, Kiner-Falefa made six of his 19 errors in September which hurt his chances of winning a Golden Glove. Although he finished with an 8.4 SABR defensive rating, which was third among AL shortstops and eighth among all AL players, he wasn’t even selected as a finalist for the price.

All in all, it was a productive year for Kiner-Falefa, especially given the lack of stardom and veteran support in the clubhouse. It was also the premiere of Kiner-Falefa full season holding a position, especially one that is more physically demanding than any other on the pitch.

Kiner-Falefa has played in 158 games in 2021 and started 155 of them at shortstop. No matter what he was going through physically or mentally, he took the field just about every time. It’s not easy, especially when it’s the first time.

Outlook 2022

Projected starter: Corey Seager
Internal options: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Marcus Semien, Andy Ibáñez, Yonny Hernandez

Off-season priority: ACCOMPLISHED

Before Major League Baseball owners locked players out after the contract expired, the Rangers spent $561.2 million in free agency to improve the club for 2022 and beyond. The addition of Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, who signed a 10-year, $325 million contract to become the Rangers’ new shortstop, highlighted the expense.

Seager provides an immediate offensive upgrade at shortstop. In seven seasons with the Dodgers, Seager reduced .297/.367/.504/.870 with 104 home runs and 364 RBIs. The highlight of his time in Los Angeles was when he single-handedly took over the 2020 National League Championship Series and World Series at Globe Life Field, helping the Dodgers win their first championship in 32 years as a Most Valuable Player of both series.

Although Seager isn’t as highly rated as a defenseman as Kiner-Falefa, he will take the reins at shortstop. Kiner-Falefa is currently expected to compete with top prospect Josh Jung for daily work at third base, where the Golden Glove winner has a clear advantage.

There’s always the possibility that Kiner-Falefa could eventually become a super-utility player for Rangers – someone who regularly makes the roster but changes position all over the pitch.

If Kiner-Falefa cements himself in a particular role, either at third base or as a super-utility player, new second baseman Marcus Semien could also play shortstop if needed. Semien just moved from shortstop to second base with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021, where he set the record for most homers by a second baseman in a single season (45) and won a golden glove.

Even so, Semien played shortstop exclusively with the Oakland Athletics from 2015 to 2020. He has plenty of experience in that position.

Heading into 2022, Rangers have not one, not two, but Three players who have proven they can play shortstop at a high level every day for a full 162-game season. Very few teams can boast of this.

More SI 2021 Positional Exams Inside the Rangers:


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