Most people inside baseball lament the lost 2020 minor league season. Josh Jung is not most people. The eighth over all pick in the 2019 MLB Draft spent the pandemic season at the Texas Rangers alternate site in Arlington and at the end of the summer said he benefitted more the experience than he would have from a full minor league season. The twenty-three year old San Antonio native took advantage of his time facing more experienced pitching by working on his contact ability and power. Not that either of those tools was much in doubt heading into the season. Prior to his professional career, Jung slashed .392/.491/.639 in 2018 for the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The following season he was named the Big 12 co-Player of the Year by hitting .343/.474/.636 with fifteen home runs and twenty-three double for Texas Tech. That award wining performance was followed up by a .287/.363/.389 showing across one hundred seventy-nine plate appearances for the Single-A Hickory Crawdads. While the slash lines looked impressive, his toolset wasn’t very loud. When he was added to the Rangers’ sixty man player pool he took advantage of the opportunity to amplify some of those tools. He began to drive the ball to all parts of the field and developed more power without making noticeable adjustments to his swing. If he’s able to carry that power to the bigs Baseball America projects the MacArthur High School alum to hit twenty to thirty home runs a year. Even without the power though, he’s still a difficult out. In one hundred ninety-eight total minor league plate appearances he only struck out thirty-two times. Jung’s plate skills are desperately needed on a rebuilding Rangers’ team, so much so that they are willing to move Gold Glove third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa to short to make room for Jung. He’s expected to start the 2020 season in Double-A and if he progresses as anticipated should make his MLB debut around the All-Star break. For a club very clearly in a rebuild, that moment can’t come soon enough.
The front office in Arlington aren’t the only ones eagerly awaiting Jung’s call up. Collectors are looking forward to seeing Texas’ best minor league bat in the majors as well. In the month leading up to spring training total sales of Jung’s first Bowman Chrome autograph card increased seventy-five percent. Not only are his sales numbers going up but his value is too. The last ten eBay sales of his raw, base autograph averaged $102.42. The ten sales prior to those averaged $71.88. The thirty-eight percent increase can be partially attributed to an offseason lull but Jung’s value was decreasing during the season last year. The momentum change didn’t begin until January 2021. The reports from the alternate site during the 2020 season appear to have changed the hobby’s mind on the Rangers’ native son. Not without good reason. Jung’s skill set is a desirable one among collectors. Jung’s thirty home run potential will get a lot of eyes on him but his ability to get on base regularly and avoid strikeouts will be what makes him stand out. Compared against his Rangers teammates who often struggle at the plate there’s a good chance the Rangers’ top prospect could be representing them in the All-Star game by 2022. That would almost certainly lead to an increase in his card values but there is a question of by how much. As talented as he is, third base is a star studded position across the league. He would have to compete against some already well established stars for hobby attention. It’s likely that he’ll be able to get that attention when he makes his first appearance but the trick would be in maintaining it. What will likely happen is there will be a spike in value when Jung gets called up that will taper off as the season progresses. Ultimately his card values will probably settle slightly higher than where they currently are now. That’s not to say he won’t deserve higher card values. But playing for a struggling club at a star heavy position will most likely make Josh Jung one of the more undervalued players in the hobby for at least the next few years.