The Rangers have essentially put an end to Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s days as a catcher, writes Jeff Wilson of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. Kiner-Falefa, 24, was drafted as an infielder and didn’t suit up behind the plate until being asked to learn the position in 2016. He’s logged 30-plus games behind the dish each year since that 2016 campaign, and manager Chris Woodward said this week that Kiner-Falefa might catch on rare occasions, but he’ll now function primarily as an infielder. Learning such a demanding position in the upper minors and at the MLB level is no easy task, and Kiner-Falefa candidly acknowledged that while he was 100 percent dedicated to learning the craft, he was still uncomfortable behind the plate. “When I was catching this year, I was feeling a lot of pressure just based on the pitcher’s career,” he said. “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.” Kiner-Falefa added that he feels as though he’s “home” again, returning to his infield roots.
More out of Arlington…
- Hunter Pence isn’t bothered by seeing his role with the club reduced as Texas auditions younger players down the stretch, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. Rather, he took the reduced role in stride and called a team meeting to urge that the entire roster buy into the youth movement. “I’m going to put my best foot forward no matter the situation,” Pence explained. “I’m happy every day I am at the park, and I’m going to give everything I have … Part of being on a team is not worrying about playing time. Whether I play less, more or the same, I will give what I have.” Fellow veteran Shin-Soo Choo echoed the sentiment, praising Woodward’s communication and the manner in which he cares for his players. Choo is under contract with the Rangers next season, so the play of the team’s young talent down the stretch could impact his role next season. Pence, a strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, is a free agent at season’s end, though one can only assume he has interest in re-upping with his hometown team.
- While Shawn Kelley had been closing games for the Rangers prior to landing on the injured list last month, he’ll return to a setup role now that he’s been activated, Woodward said yesterday (link via Brian Dulik of MLB.com). Jose Leclerc lost the handle on ninth-inning duties earlier this season but has regained that role for the time being despite a recent blown save and a total of four runs allowed in seven innings since the All-Star break. With Texas fading from Wild Card contention, it makes sense to put Leclerc back into the role the club envisioned when signing him to an extension during Spring Training. The Rangers are obviously invested in helping the flamethrowing young righty return to form and surely still hope that he’ll be a top-tier late-inning option for them for the foreseeable future.
- The Rangers announced yesterday that veteran righty Edinson Volquez is embarking on a minor league rehab assignment, beginning with the club’s Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate. The 36-year-old Volquez made a brief return from his second career Tommy John surgery early in the season, only to go down with another elbow issue that has sidelined him since April. Volquez initially feared a third tear of his UCL, but it seems he’s avoided that fate. Now, he hopes to make it back to a big league mound for one last run in 2019 so that he can retire on his own terms following the season.