Josh Jung Talks Hitting

Josh Jung is the top position player prospect in the Texas Rangers system. He’s also a bona fide hitting nerd. A 23-year-old third baseman who was drafted eighth overall in 2019 out of Texas Tech University, Jung not only embraces analytics, he’s reconfigured his swing and his approach since inking a contract. The results speak for themselves. Splitting his first full professional season between Double-A Round Rock and Triple-A Frisco, Jung slashed .326/.398/.592 with 19 home runs in just 342 plate appearances. His best-in-the-organization wRC+ was a lusty 152.

Jung discussed his data-driven development, which comes with a “train dirty to play clean” mindset, last week over the phone.

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David Laurila: Let’s start with one of my favorite openers: Do you view hitting as more of an art, or as more of a science?

Josh Jung: “It’s both. Trying to be consistent is the art part. When you break it down and go analytical is the science part of it.”

Laurila: Which way would you lean if forced to choose one or the other?

Jung: [Long pause] “Maybe more of an art. Hitting is one of the hardest things to do in the world of sports. If you’re successful three out of 10 times you’re viewed as good, and that doesn’t happen in any other sport, or with any other metric. So I’d have to say it’s pretty much an art.”

Laurila: How would you describe your art?

Jung: “I’m going to attack you, and I’m going to try to hit the ball in the air to left center. That’s my approach. I’m going to stride downhill, swing down, and try to hold my line as long as I can. I’m going to try to do damage, and then, with two strikes, I’ll kind of change my approach; I’ll choke up a little bit, and will just fight and grind you.”

Laurila: Can you elaborate on “swing down”?

Jung: “That’s a feel for me. If you watch my swing, I’m not actually swinging down. It’s a feel, and a thought process, that keeps me short, compact, and efficient with my swing. That’s something that really helped me this past season: having that thought process of, ‘OK, wherever this pitch is, I’m going to swing down.’ It basically allows me to keep my head down throughout my swing, and stay short.”

Laurila: How would you describe your bat path?

Jung: “I’d say that I’m through the zone for a long time. And again, I’m not swinging down. It’s actually kind of an uphill swing. I’m trying to attack the bottom inside part of the baseball, with the intent of hitting the ball as high as I can to left-center.”

Laurila: In college, you would inside-out the ball. Is that accurate?

Jung: “Oh, big time. All of my power was to right-center.”

Laurila: How did you go about making the adjustment toward the pull side?

Jung: “Well, it took a long time; it took about a year. COVID was a blessing for me in that respect. The main thing I did was learn how to manipulate my body, and control my body, to hit inside pitches in the air consistently with backspin.

“We have a thing with the Rangers called ‘train dirty to play clean.’ We would do a lot of stuff where it was an offset angle with a fastball, buried underneath your hands, and it was, ‘Can you hit this ball in the air with true backspin and not get around it?’ It took me a long time to figure out how to do that. Once I did, it kind of changed my path as a hitter, and really, my career. Pitches I used to struggle on, I can now do damage with in the air to the pull side, rather than rolling them over.”

Laurila: [Rangers hitting coordinator] Cody Atkinson told me that you’ve re-adjusted your alignment.

Jung: “Yes. In college, I was pretty straight up, at a wider base, and now I’m up tall and have opened up my stance up a little bit. But the big thing is striding on a line, to where when I land, I’m even, as opposed to kind of across.”

Laurila: And you’re looking to turn on balls…

Jung: “The way my brain has been grooved, my entire life, was to be more of an opposite-field, gap type of a hitter. It’s one of the things where trying to pull the ball to left-center, and hit it as high as I can, keeps me through the zone longer. When I train… my swing has been so flat my entire life, so I overtrain, and overemphasize, hitting the ball high to get the right launch angle to do damage on certain pitch types. A lot of guys are like, ‘I’m trying to hit a line drive, backside,’ and that used to be me, but now, depending on what the pitcher has, the pitch type he’s coming with, my intent is to drive the ball to left-center.”

Laurila: Would you call yourself a power hitter?

Jung: [Long pause] “I want to say yes, but I guess I’d rather say that I’m just looking to do damage. Whatever that means. I’m not really worried about hitting homers, but I am trying to do damage. I’m trying to solve pitching and turn pitches around.”

Laurila: I’ve asked hitters if they basically have one swing — an A-swing — or if they have multiple swings to accommodate different pitchers and situations. What about you?

Jung: “I have an A-swing, for sure. But I train adjustability-swings, as well. We’re only going to be on time, at our best, maybe 30% of the time. That other 70%, we’re not on time. We might be late, so we’re changing our rhythm, and changing our timing. So I actually do train adjustability-swings — on locations, and on pitches. That way, when I get into a game, especially with two strikes, I have the adjustability. I have the confidence to compete on certain pitches, and not be thinking, ‘I have to look in this area.’”

Laurila: A lot of that would be reaction-based. Are there also count-specific swings and approaches?

Jung: “I mean, yeah. When I get into the box, until there are two strikes I’m trying to lift to left-center. And then, with two strikes, I’m going to choke up, spread out a little bit, kind of go a little bit earlier, and just try to put the ball in play. Good things can happen when you put the ball in play.”

Laurila: You hit over .400 with two outs and runners in scoring position this past season. Small sample size [52 plate appearances] or not, that’s pretty impressive.

Jung: “I mean, I’ve always prided myself on hitting with guys in scoring position. That’s where we make our money, right? Driving in runs.”

Laurila: When I interviewed [Rangers prospect] Justin Foscue for this series last year, he said that good hitting beats good pitching — or at least it’s trending in that direction. Do you agree with him?

Jung: “I wouldn’t say ‘beats it.’ What I would say is that good hitting ‘solves’ good pitching. That’s how I’d phrase it, because as hitters, we’re trying to solve a puzzle. Pitchers are getting so good at tunneling to where it breaks in the last 20 feet. You’re like, ‘Oh, crap, it can go three different directions.’ So, hitting has to solve good pitching. At the end of the day, the pitcher has the ball in his hand, which means he has the upper hand.”

Laurila: Does your interest in hitting analytics and advanced training regimens date back to your time at Texas Tech?

Jung: “No. I’ve always been a gym rat and a hitting rat — a cage rat — but I didn’t get into the analytics, or the way I train, until I got with Cody. I fell in love with the metrics, and that really happened when I was on the taxi squad during COVID. It was like, ‘Dang.’”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Jung: “I would say the biggest separator for me is the way I go about my business and train in the cages. It’s that mentality to train dirty to play clean. With our hitting coordinator, Cody, and with our big league hitting coaches, Donnie [Ecker] and Tim [Hyers], it’s all about solving pitching. Again, pitchers are tunneling. They’re coming up with all these different things. You could see five pitchers in a game, and every single one of their fastballs will be different. How do we solve that? It comes down to how you train. How do you train in the offseason, and how do you train before a game? For me, it’s not about going out and doing feel-good flips. It’s about training for things like the pitch shape you’re going to see on a given day.

“After games, I like to look at my exit velocities and launch angles. I also train with a Rapsodo. After pretty much every swing, I can get instantaneous feedback. It’s ‘This is what I felt, this is what happened.’ Can I be consistent with that, or do I need to tweak something, or tell myself something to do it better?”

Laurila: Circling back to you falling in love with metrics, how many of your recent teammates would you say are big-time hitting nerds?

Jung: “There might be two or three guys. But I take it to the extreme. I’m obsessed with it.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Tim Hyers, Jimmy Kerr, Trevor Larnach, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Brent Rooker,, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Luke Voit, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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tomjefmember
8 months ago

Great interview