Now an established starter, Isiah Kiner-Falefa eager to build on breakout 2020 season

Sports

HOUSTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 17: Isiah Kiner-Falefa #9 of the Texas Rangers throws out Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros on a soft ground ball to end the third inning at Minute Maid Park on September 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The 2020 MLB season was short but sweet for Mid-Pacific’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

Although the Texas Rangers were a disappointing 22-38, Kiner-Falefa ended up being one of the few pleasant surprises on his team. At the plate, he led the team in hits (59) and batting average (.280), while his 11 defensive runs saved were tied for second-most in the league behind Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado. While his production with his bat solidified his everyday spot in the lineup, his glove at third base could yield him a Gold Glove. On Thursday, he was named one of three finalists in the American League for the Gold Glove at the hot corner.

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“It means the world to me. Like I said earlier, just being a catcher last year and throwing my infield work to the side and not really getting recognized the way I thought I should get recognized out there, I really took it as a slap in the face at the beginning but when I had the opportunity to get back in the infield, I wanted to leave my impression so it was just a dream come true and to win the Gold Glove would mean everything to me,” Kiner-Falefa told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello.

Kiner-Falefa’s breakout season came at a time of uncertainty. After a hot start in spring training, the COVID-19 pandemic put a four-and-a-half-month pause on the season. When Kiner-Falefa and the rest of the Rangers returned to the field, it was under the parameters of an intense 60-game dash with few days off in between.

“First off, I just want to let my body rest. It was a long, short season just in every aspect, mentally especially so just want to make sure I get back on the beach, relax a little bit but right after that, getting stronger,” Kiner-Falefa says of his offseason. “I showed a lot of power in spring training and summer camp and when the season started, kind of faded a little bit so that something that I want to prove and I still have a lot to show. The foundation is already built so now it’s about putting those things in and just getting better in every aspect.”

Kiner-Falefa was primarily a shortstop when he was taken by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft after his senior season at Mid-Pac. He was able to climb the minor league ladder with his defensive versatility, adding second base, third base and catcher to his repertoire.

Following the retirement of potential Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre after the 2018 season, the hot corner was vacant in Arlington for the first time since 2010. Kiner-Falefa got his shot and owned the position in 2020. Fellow third baseman Josh Jung, the consensus top prospect in the Rangers organization, is projected to make his MLB debut in 2021. But regardless of where he plays on the field for the Rangers moving forward, Kiner-Falefa figures to be in their long-term plans.

“It’s exciting because it’s only the beginning but the hard thing about this game and just sports in general is you gotta do it again, so back to square one, building off last season but everyone only remembers what you do recently so it’s gonna take a lot of focus, a lot of hard work to do it again,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I’m up for the challenge and I can’t wait.”

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