The Hawaii born prospect with a name as unique as his particular set of skills had another very, very fine season for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders.
After his 2016 campaign, I wrote up on the emerging player and talked to him about the season that put him on the Minor League Baseball map. To my surprise, he still found himself out of the microscope and absent from pretty much every minor league source when the fresh 2017 rankings came around.
In 2016, the fan-favorite “Izzy” slashed .256/.341/.286, nothing overly spectacular but his incredible 51:41 K:BB ratio was worth noting in itself. He swiped six bases and played all over the field.
I mean all over.
Drafted as a middle infielder, he ventured to third base and the outfield in 2015 with Low-A Hickory before becoming a full-blown everyman in 2016 with Frisco.
RoughRiders Manager Joe Mikulik utilized Kiner-Falefa —also known as Kiner— at first base as well, but the key move was to expand his repertoire to catcher.
Similar to the experiment with fellow prospect Josh Morgan, the Rangers wanted to see if they could turn the infielder (with a hint of outfielder) into a catcher as well, thus bringing to form a true super utility player.
He caught 33 games last season and it went very well. His secondary position ended up being not shortstop or second base but third base, which he picked up the season prior.
With the experiment having seen a year of evidence, 2017 saw him make a huge developmental jump at the still very raw age of 22.
Kiner-Falefa had a grand total of zero home runs in 1,212 professional at-bats before this season. He hit one in the second game of the season.
He would hit five total for the year, which concluded on Monday night, and added yet another page to his glossary of tools. On top of the newfound power, he hit .288 at the plate and maintained —actually improved upon— his keen eye at the dish.
His OBP raised to .350 and his slugging percentage jumped over 100 points to .390. His 31 doubles tied for the league lead with Texas League MVP Matt Beaty (who I talked to in June) and he yet again played all over the field, with an expanded role in his sophomore year of catching.
Third base remained his most popular position (50 games), followed up by second base (37) with catcher third at the same total as 2016 (33 games). Additionally, he played shortstop 10 times and center field once. He also served as Frisco’s designated hitter in three games. Overall, he played in 131 of the club’s 140 games.
Yet another “breakout” season puts Izzy on course for a much more favorable outlook entering 2018, one he clearly deserves.