The Texas Rangers may have a tough decision to make on Jurickson Profar. Will he be on the opening day roster? Let’s take a look.
In 2012, MLB.com’s top prospect list had names like Francisco Lindor (ranked #13), Christian Yelich (#17), Gerrit Cole (#7), Trevor Bauer (#5), and Dylan Bundy (#2). At the top of that list was a 25-year-old shortstop from Curacao named Jurickson Profar.
At the time, Profar was as close to a sure thing as a player could get — plus defender, plus-plus arm, switch hitter, plus contact — the kid had All-Star written all over him. While his offensive skill-set was never expected to be plus-plus, his bat was certainly an impact one.
After slashing .286/.390/.493 in A ball in 2011, Profar followed that up with a .281/.368/.452 line in AA in 2012. The Rangers called him up in August of 2012, at 19 years old, and while he didn’t exactly blow the doors off, the upside was obvious.
2013 saw Profar appear in 85 games for the Rangers, mostly mopping up after Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler. His line that season wasn’t particularly inspiring — .234/.308/.336, but his baseball acumen (and age) gave the Texas Rangers enough confidence in him to trade Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Prince Fielder, opening up second base for Profar going into the 2014 season.
Then, of course, came the injuries.
Profar began the season on the 60-day DL with a shoulder injury. 60 days turned into two full seasons, as the young shortstop missed all of 2014 and 2015 with injuries to his right shoulder. (Texas Rangers fans might note, here, that the player who stepped into the vacancy at second base is none other than Rougned Odor.)
To say the least, 2016 and 2017 have been trying seasons for Jurickson Profar. With the Texas Rangers infield solidified up the middle, Profar has bounced all over the place, starting games at SS, 2B, 3B, and LF. He’s seen112 games with the Rangers in the past two seasons, and 129 at AAA Round Rock, and rumors have it that he was hoping to be traded at last season’s deadline.
While his stats at the major league level have been average (in 90 games in 2017, Profar slashed .239/.321/.338), he’s shown that he’s more than capable of handling the minors (combined .286/.370/.427 in ’16/17). Profar says all of the right things but has been adamant that he is a shortstop, and wants to be a shortstop. He’s not free agent eligible until 2021, and while the Texas Rangers have explored trading him, they certainly need not rush on their end of things.
By all appearances, it seems like the very thing Profar needs is the thing the Rangers are least likely to give him: an opportunity. Unfortunately, 2021 makes him a 28-year-old free agent, and unless the next few years are spent in a starting (and starring) role, his future might not be more than that of a utility player. Plenty of top prospects have fared worse, but it’s hard to write off a player so young.
This leads us to 2018. Profar is out of options, and Jon Daniels has said that he will be on the Rangers Opening Day roster, spelling Andrus, Odor, and Beltre when they need rest. While surely he has some trade value, it’s tough to see where he might find an everyday opportunity.
Of the 29 other teams in baseball, only the Padres, Twins, Marlins, and Reds have shortstop positions which might be up for grabs.
The Twins are unlikely, as they have a plethora of young infielders primed for the Majors; while Jorge Polanco was just suspended for 80 games this season, Minnesota recently signed Erick Aybar, and have young utility players Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza at the helm. Top prospect Nick Gordon is there, too, though he might not be ready for the majors.
The Padres are in a similar situation, having just signed Freddy Galvis this offseason as a bridge to super-prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr.
The Reds are still trying to replace Zack Cozart, but the word on the street in Cincinnati is that their top prospect, third basemen Nick Senzel, is taking reps at short. That the Reds recently extended Eugenio Suarez makes sense of Senzel’s attempt at a switch. In the meantime, they’ve got speedster Jose Peraza to bridge the gap.
The Marlins seem to be the easiest fit to speculate, as J.T. Riddle, while being arguably the same kind of player that Profar is today, doesn’t have quite the ceiling. Additionally, their top infield prospect is Isan Diaz, who hasn’t yet played above A ball.
That’s slim pickings for the Rangers and gives a team like Miami or Cincinnati almost all of the leverage in negotiating a trade.
While the jury remains out on Profar, he’s valuable to the Rangers is only because he’s able to be penciled in at any infield position in the event of injuries, slumps, or other unexpected vacancies. Beltre, superhuman as his is, is 38 years old, and while the Rangers no doubt have faith in Odor, one has to think (hope? pray?) that another two or three months of 2017 baseball from him would merit benching.
Elvis Andrus has a player option at the end of this season, and, surely, the Texas Rangers are aware of what his absence would mean for their team if he does indeed choose free agency. Andrus exploded offensively in 2017, and after Beltre, he is the heart and soul of the Rangers. It seems unfathomable that he would leave, but crazier things have happened in Arlington.
Profar puts Rangers fans in a tough position. It’s impossible not to root for the kid, and fans of the game everywhere love a comeback story. It seems unlikely that Profar will live up to his billing as a top prospect, but there certainly remains a shred or two of hope that, with extended playing time, he could enter his prime playing at the top level.
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The Texas Rangers have a 40-man roster filled with toolsy ballplayers, and while Profar might sit at the top of that list, it’s tough not to wonder if his future is in Arlington. He was benched last year in AAA after expressing frustration at not being traded, and it seems a long shot that he would stay in Texas beyond his free agency.
It’s worth considering if both he, and the Rangers, would be better off moving in new directions. Perhaps Texas could get a prospect or two, and perhaps Profar could get an opportunity at making good on his promise.
I don’t know that I want that to happen…I’d rather unload Odor’s contract and have a steadier (and cheaper, and more defensively sound) presence in the lineup. But, I understand that I’m in the minority there.
Whether by way of injury or performance, Profar should get some playing time in 2018. It remains interesting to consider what he might do in his opportunities, and which direction the Rangers might go — with him, but also with Odor, or Beltre, or Andurs — come the All-Star break.