Isiah Kiner-Falefa is unique in countless ways. The Texas Rangers drafted Kiner-Falefa, affectionately known by his peers as “Izzy,” in Round Four of the 2013 Major League Baseball draft. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Kiner-Falefa seeks to become the 42nd player from Hawaii and the 26th from the capital island to make the Major Leagues.
Shane Victorino most notably represents Hawaii, along others such as St. Louis Cardinals infielder/outfielder Kolten Wong, Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki and former big league pitcher Charlie Hough.
Kiner-Falefa breezed through the Rangers’ lower levels and opened 2016 in Double-A at just 21-years old, making him the sixth youngest player in the Texas League. The jump to the game-changing difficulties of Double-A didn’t faze the very young Rangers prospect. Not to mention, he picked up catching and had an incredible 41:51 K:BB rate.
As the 2016 campaign drew to a close, I asked Izzy about just that, how he thought his breakout season went, his Hawaiian heritage and just how many times he’s heard people mispronounce his name.
How would you say the season went?
“I thought the season went well. I learned a lot this year, picked up on catching. As a team we started off really well, started losing pieces, been rough of late but overall I think everyone got better. The team went out there and played hard so the season went well.”
When did you find out you were going to be playing catcher?
“Like the last two weeks of last year’s instructs, late September. I didn’t think I was actually going to do it this year. I thought it was more of a play around type thing. I ended up going to Spring Training thinking I was going to be more of an infielder and they said they wanted me to catch. I just bought in, it was pretty cool.”
Do you have a favorite position?
“It doesn’t matter to me, I just like playing. Wherever I can be on the field it doesn’t matter to me.”
On the flexibility he brings to the table…
“I like the versatility, I never really had it until this year. Just the opportunity I’ve given myself by playing all of these other positions has really helped me.”
Adjusting to Double-A…
“The difference with Double-A is everyone adjusts a lot quicker. You play the same teams over and over and they adjust to what type of player you are. They adjust to your strengths, your weaknesses. You just gotta adjust with them and that’s really helped me become a better player this year.”
Does anyone have trouble with your name?
“It’s been crazy, sometimes our PA announcer can’t even say my name. It gets tough but I answer to anything that sounds weird or sounds with a K, F or an I.”
Do you have a nickname?
“I just go by Izzy nowadays, everybody calls me that so I just bought into that as well. I like it.”
On being a potential Hawaiian Major Leaguer…
“It’d be awesome because the list is so small. If I can get up there it would be awesome to bring exposure for our island.”
What’s next after the season ends?
“I’m going to the Fall League this year. It’s gonna be pretty weird because this is my first year playing Winter ball so I’m gonna have to learn what to do. Normally I take a couple weeks off but this year I’m gonna go back home and work out right away, get ready for the Fall League and take a break after that and see what happens.”
What position will you be playing in the Fall League?
“I’ll probably just be a utility guy. Catch and probably play infield. I’m a taxi player so I’m only gonna be able to play two days a week. It would be pretty cool to get one game at catcher and one at infield.”