Rarely does a Gold Glove winner change positions, but in moving from third base to shortstop, Isiah Kiner-Falefa gets a chance to return to his roots.
On Monday, the Texas Rangers announced that they would give Kiner-Falefa the opportunity to start at shortstop. Meanwhile, veteran Elvis Andrus, the starter at short for the past 12 seasons, will be asked to play all infield positions.
Kiner-Falefa was selected as a shortstop in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft. He was a multi-year starter at the position for Mid-Pacific, winning a HHSAA title and earning all-state honors during his senior year. Although he’s started 17 games at shortstop over his major league career, he climbed the minor league ladder through his defensive versatility in the infield, which included learning how to become a catcher.
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When the 2021 season gets started, he’ll be back where he belongs.
“It’s kind of funny because usually they go from shortstop to third base, they don’t go the other way,” Mid-Pacific coach Dunn Muramaru said, noting that Kiner-Falefa felt he lost some speed as he learned how to catch. “He wanted to prove to them that he could actually play infield because that’s what he did in the minor leagues. I’m glad for him that they finally gave him a chance. It’s really good for him.”
During the offseason, Kiner-Falefa will regularly return to the Mid-Pacific campus to get some work in and pick the brain of Muramaru, who has been the Owls’ head coach for over 30 years. Muramaru was understandably excited when he saw his former player take home an American League Gold Glove at third base in early November.
“That was pretty neat. As soon as I heard, I texted him and said congratulations,” Muramaru said. “That was kind of nice. But he deserves it. He works so hard and he has that goal in his mind. He just works hard.”
Muramaru was first able to see Kiner-Falefa play an MLB game in person during his rookie season in 2018. Muramaru’s son, Cal, had graduated from the University of Puget Sound that May. A trip to see the Rangers play the Mariners in nearby Seattle followed.
“At that time, I made some notes. Just watching him throw and doing all kinds of stuff and I wrote them all down but I didn’t want to text it to him or anything so I just waited until he came back and said, ‘These are some things you could work on.’ Now, he’s a major leaguer. He’s a shortstop now. If he asks, I’ll tell him. It’s not for me to tell him,” Muramaru said. “I’m just really happy for him. It’s just really nice for him to make it, but now it’s another responsibility. It’s a next level. He’s really worked himself from the bottom up. He was a utility guy and he had to play different positions. Now he slowly earned his way to where he is now. I’m really happy about his character and hopefully he’ll be a mainstay for years to come.”
In 2021 and beyond, Muramaru expects big things out of Kiner-Falefa. But as much as he may have molded Kiner-Falefa and countless other players in over three decades of being at MPI, he doesn’t want any of the credit.
“We’re just lucky to have Isiah here at Mid-Pac. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we made him.’ We’re lucky to have him attend Mid-Pac and do well out there. Hopefully it shines on our program but he’s done it himself,” Muramaru said. “It’s not like we were the guys that did it for him, no. It’s him. He had to go through the minor leagues and had to do all those things and it’s where credit is due — it’s him. I just hope he keeps doing well and maybe get into the Hall of Fame maybe. That would be kind of neat, too.”