Isiah Kiner-Falefa

From BR Bullpen

Isiah Kiner-Falefa
(Hawaiian Hustle)

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Isiah Kiner-Falefa made his major league debut for the Texas Rangers early in the 2018 season, filling in at second base for an injured Rougned Odor. On June 20th, he started his first game as a catcher and formed one half of the first hyphenated battery in major league history when he caught Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who started the game on the mound.

In 2020, he became the starter at third base and was a surprise winner of the Gold Glove Award for his defensive work at the hot corner. He had originally been drafted as a shortstop and was also used at second and third base in the minors, before the Rangers decided to have him work behind the plate as well, increasing his value to the organization. In addition to his stellar defensive play, he batted .280 in 58 games with an OPS+ of 93 - not bad for someone who was seen strictly as a utility player only a couple of years earlier. His development as a stand-out defensive player changed the Rangers' plans and following the 2020 season, they announced that he was being penciled in as the team's starting shortstop for 2021, replacing long-time incumbent Elvis Andrus. He had started 15 games at the position in 2020. Of course, the combination of SS/C was a very rare one at the major league level, with Kyle Farmer the only other active player to have as many as 10 games at both positions. Historically, a few names like Dave Cochrane, Jamie Quirk, Bobby Bragan and Moe Berg fit the criteria. He was not expected to do any more catching moving forward, except in emergencies, however. He played 158 games, 156 of them at shortstop, and hit 271 with 25 doubles, 8 homers and 53 RBIs. While he did not win another Gold Glove, his defensive work was considered above average, and his OPS+ of 85 while well below average, was not bad for a standout defensive player.

Still, the Rangers were looking to improve their offensive production from infielders after the 2021 season, and went all out in the free agent market, signing Marcus Semien and Corey Seager just before the lockout. It looked like Kiner-Falefa would still get a chance to compete for the vacant third base job, but on March 12, 2022, shortly after the lockout was resolved, he was instead traded to the Minnesota Twins along with P Ronny Henriquez in return for C Mitch Garver. The Twins' starter at shortstop the previous season, Andrelton Simmons, had just signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs the day before, leaving a vacant slot for him to fill. However, the Twins had other plans, as on the very next day, March 13th, he was traded to the New York Yankees as part of a blockbuster deal, joining 3B Josh Donaldson and C Ben Rortvedt in return for C Gary Sanchez and 3B Gio Urshela. he was the Yankees' regular shortstop that year, and hit .261 in 142 games, with 4 homers and 48 RBIs. His OPS+ of 84 was right around his career norm, and while the Yankees were satisfied with his defensive play, they would have liked more contribution with the bat in a line-up where it was hard to find offense apart from the monster numbers put up by Aaron Judge. As a result, he did not start 3 of the Yankees' 9 postseason games, with others like Edwar Cabrera getting a look at shortstop. He went 5 for 18 in the games he did start, for an average of .278, but only one of his hits went for extra bases and he did not drive in a single run in what was his first taste of postseason play.

Heading into 2023, the Yankees were hoping that top prospect Anthony Volpe would take over as the starting shortstop if not right out of spring training, at least at some point during the season. Isiah for his part was projected as a utility player and worked out in the outfield with coach Nick Swisher during spring. Given his athleticism, the Yankees were confident that he could serve as an adequate back-up in centerfield - they had often been forced to play Judge at the position the previous season, due to a lack of other options, and would prefer not to have to do so going forward.

He is a distant fourth cousin of famed Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Ralph Kiner.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Stephen Hawkins (Associated Press): "Rangers trade INF Kiner-Falefa to Twins for catcher Garver", Yahoo! News, March 12, 2022. [1]
  • Bryan Hoch: "IKF has new initials in his future: CF",, March 15, 2023. [2]
  • Andrew Simon: "C to SS? Why this rare move could work",, December 1, 2020. [3]
  • Randy Miller "The secret is out: Disrespected Yankees shortstop is related to a Hall of Fame slugger (and beloved Mets legend)",, April 6, 2022. [4]

Related Sites[edit]