TODAY: The MRI revealed a minor strain for Jung, according to RangersToday.com’s Jeff Wilson and other reporters. Both Jung and manager Bruce Bochy feel Jung will be recovered for Opening Day, with some slight disagreement on the timeline — Jung said he’ll miss two weeks, while Bochy feels Jung will be sidelined for three weeks.
FEB. 16: Camp only just opened this week, but the Rangers are already facing one potentially worrisome injury situation. Third baseman Josh Jung experienced discomfort in his calf while fielding grounders today and is headed for an MRI, tweets Jeff Wilson of RangersToday.com. The club will provide further details once the imaging has been performed and evaluated by medical personnel.
Jung just turned 26 years old this week and was the fourth-place finisher in American League Rookie of the Year voting this past season. The former No. 8 overall draft pick belted 23 home runs and slashed .266/.315/.467 with sharp defense at the hot corner. Were it not for a fractured left thumb that kept him out of action for six weeks, he’d very likely have been a top-three finisher and could’ve potentially even given eventual winner Gunnar Henderson a run for his money.
At this point, there’s no indication the team believes the injury to be serious, though the pending MRI exam suggests there’s at least some degree of concern. The Rangers are relatively deep in infield talent, so in the event that Jung needs to miss any time, they’ll have options. Ezequiel Duran stepped up in Duran’s absence last season, and Josh H. Smith has ample experience at the corner as well. Veteran Matt Duffy is in camp as a non-roster player this spring and would give the Rangers a solid glove and contact-oriented bat at the position if he makes the team.
On the topic of non-roster Duffys, Matt isn’t the only one in camp. Veteran left-hander Danny Duffy also inked a minor league pact with Texas this season and could be an important depth piece for a club that will open the season with Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle on the injured list and all likely out into the summer. The 35-year-old southpaw hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since the 2021 season due to injuries but has been with the Dodgers (2022) and Rangers (2023) for the past two seasons while working toward a return. Texas used him as a reliever in the minors in ’23, but Kennedi Landry of MLB.com tweets that Duffy is building up as a starter in camp this time around.
It’s a familiar role for Duffy, the longtime Royals hurler who’s made 204 of his 234 career appearances out of the rotation. Aside from a brief dalliance in the bullpen in 2015-16, Duffy was a fixture on Kansas City’s starting staff from 2014-21, during which time he logged a 3.82 ERA in 1015 innings while punching out 21.3% of his opponents against an 8.2% walk rate. Duffy is now 35 years old and hasn’t pitched in the bigs since undergoing surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in Dec. 2021. He’s pitched a total of 42 1/3 innings in the minors across the past two seasons. Expecting a full bounceback to his peak Royals form isn’t realistic, but if he’s healthy he should be a legitimate option to help the staff.
Getting any contributions from Duffy or fellow non-roster invitees José Ureña and Adrian Sampson would be a boon for the Rangers. Texas is set to enter the season with a rotation including Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning and likely Cody Bradford. It’s a much weaker group than the World Series-winning outfit that finished out the 2023 season with Scherzer and current free agent Jordan Montgomery atop the staff. But general manager Chris Young has indicated he doesn’t anticipate any more additions to the big league roster at this point, strongly suggesting that the current group is the one the Rangers will carry into the season.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News takes a look at the in-house depth options that stalled out last season. Former top prospects Jack Leiter, Cole Winn, Owen White and Zak Kent all struggled in various ways in ’23. Righty Kumar Rocker, the No. 3 pick back in 2022, underwent Tommy John surgery last May.
That group was expected to produce some pivotal long-term rotation pieces, but each prospect has seen his stock drop amid poor performance and/or injury. Grant notes that Leiter, who was shut down for nearly two months last year to work on his mechanics, spent the offseason working out with American League Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray and veteran catcher Curt Casali. The trio all attended Vanderbilt (at different times, obviously). Gray worked with Leiter on simplifying his approach and his plan on the mound. Grant chatted not only with Leiter but also White and Kent about some of the changes they’ve made as they look to get back on track and contribute at a time when the Rangers will be leaning more heavily on internal pitching depth than at any point in 2023.