Next Josh Up in Texas Has Been a Remarkable Surprise

Josh Smith has stepped up in Josh Jung's absence at third base and has delivered for the Texas Rangers in a huge way.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - APRIL 25: Wyatt Langford #36 of the Texas Rangers celebrates the home run by Josh Smith #8 of the Texas Rangers in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Globe Life Field on April 25, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Texas Rangers All-Star third baseman Josh Jung had his wrist broken by an errant Phil Maton fastball. It was just the fourth game of the season. The situation at the hot corner seemed dark. Despite occurring on April 1st, losing Jung for eight to 10 weeks was no bad April Fool’s joke. Rangers’ manager Bruce Bochy has inserted a new Josh, Josh Smith in at third and he has played brilliantly.

Many baseball fans outside of Texas might not really know who Josh Smith even is, and that is fair. He played collegiate baseball for LSU. In 2017 he was the starting third baseman for their College World Series runner-up team. After missing most on 2018 due to injury, Smith was not only the leader of the Tigers offense, but also was their starting shortstop.

Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2019 MLB draft by the New York Yankees. Then in July of 2021, he was traded to the Rangers as part of the trade package for slugger Joey Gallo. Let’s just say that in hindsight, the trade worked out in Texas’ favor.

Offensive Numbers for Josh Smith

This season marks Smith’s third being in the big leagues. In 2022 the left-handed hitting utility guy played the back-and-forth game between Arlington and Triple-A Round Rock. Then last season he shared the super utility role with Ezequiel Duran. Duran also came over from the Yankees in the Gallo trade.

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In 2023, Smith was solid defensively, but was less than stellar at the plate. He was scrappy and did help in some key situations but overall, he struggled offensively. That is not the case this season.

Not only has Smith been a bright spot for the Rangers, but his numbers land him in the top part of the rankings league wide. After Monday night’s game in Oakland, Smith is hitting .300/.412/.480, has 10 doubles, one triple, two home runs, has scored 18 runs, has 15 RBI, and has a wRC+ of 158 in 119 plate appearances.

Smith OBP Behind Only Soto in American League

With an fWAR of 1.3, he is second on the team to only Marcus Semien, who has 1.4 fWAR. It should be noted that Smith had a career -0.2 fWAR heading into this season.

And where does that robust .412 OBP put him on the MLB rankings?

Smith is currently second in the American League behind only Juan Soto and is tied for 6th overall. He is walking at a 11.8% clip and only striking out 18.5% of the time.

Another category that Smith excels in, and it is a painful one, is being hit by pitch. He has already been plunked five times this year. Over his short career he has been beaned 21 times total. This season Smith has backed off the plate a bit. Maybe his bruises with laces in the middle of them will decrease in the future.

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And although unofficial, it is quite possible that Smith leads MLB in the most times that he has lost his helmet. Not just from running around the bases, but from simply swinging. It is quite remarkable actually and is noticeable even to the casuals.

But the actual numbers and baseball sense that Smith continues to demonstrate has helped keep the Rangers at the top of the AL West along with the Seattle Mariners. Not too shabby for a guy that wouldn’t have had an everyday job without the terrible injury to Jung.

Josh Smith Can Flash the Leather

Rangers’ fans have gotten to know Smith over the last two years as an above average defender. But they also haven’t seen him show much hit tool. This year the offense has come on and the defense is still top tier.

Historically Smith has moved around the diamond. In both 2022 and 2023, he spent time at second, shortstop, third base, left field, DH, and was used as both a pinch hitter and pinch runner. This season he has been able to focus on mainly third base, with a few games at shortstop, and being used as a pinch hitter six times.

How would someone describe Josh Smith? A ball player. He plays hard and gives it his all. In a day and age where there are bigger, stronger, and faster players, seeing the hardnosed Smith having so much success is refreshing.

There is no set plan for Smith when Jung comes off of the IL. That won’t happen most likely until the middle of June. Until then, Bochy is going to continue to ride the hot hand. However it shakes out, Smith is making a strong case to play a more active role for the Rangers moving forward.

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I have even heard some fans floating the idea of trading Smith at the deadline while his stock is high. And while I see the rationale behind that thought, there is something to be said for having a guy on your team that can be plugged in just about anywhere and play well. Especially when injuries are running rampant across the league.

Josh Smith isn’t a guy that is going to be a superstar year in and year out, but he is a solid ball player that is putting up some video game numbers at the moment. The next Josh up play as worked out well for the Texas Rangers.