Don’t Forget About Jurickson Profar
Remember 2013? Harlem Shake videos were all the rage, James Franco had that movie with the dreadlocks, the Boston Red Sox won a World Series, and we witnessed the greatest play in college football history. It was a fun time! Mike Trout had just taken the league by storm en route to perhaps the greatest rookie season of all time, and fantasy players turned their attention to industry prospect lists, desperately searching for the next big thing to prop their teams up for years to come. Sometimes it’s difficult for the industry to come to a consensus anointing top prospects. This wasn’t the case in 2013. Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, Baseball America, everyone agreed on the player at the pinnacle of prospect lists. It wasn’t Gerrit Cole. It wasn’t Jose Fernandez or Chris Archer. It was a shortstop, but it wasn’t Carlos Correa or Xander Bogaerts. Unanimously, the consensus next big thing was Jurickson Profar.
After an unspectacular debut to pro ball in 2010, Profar burst onto the scene in 2011, tearing up Class-A as an 18-year-old, hitting .286/.390/.493 with 12 homers, 23 stolen bases and a .207 ISO. Maybe even more impressively, in an era where strikeout rates routinely eclipse 25 percent, Profar struck out only 12.2 percent of the time. He also walked 12.6 percent of the time. One-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratios don’t happen very often, and Profar’s excellent plate discipline skills helped him shoot through the Rangers’ system at a Harper-esque rate. His rise culminated with a cup of coffee in 2012 for the big club, amassing 17 plate appearances in September. Granted they weren’t necessarily good plate appearances, but Profar was only 19 years old, with a future so bright he had to wear shades (yep, went there).
Profar’s highly developed approach at the plate was on display from the start in 2013, beginning in Triple A Round Rock, as he slashed .278/.370/.438 in 166 plate appearances. Against the most consistently advanced pitching he had seen to that point, Profar drew 21 walks against 24 strikeouts. He got the call to Arlington in May, and did his best Ben Zobrist impression, filling in at shortstop, second base, third base, and left field. His number weren’t great (.644 OPS; 19.4 percent strikeouts), but at 20 years old, Profar was one of the youngest players in the league.
Entering Spring Training in 2014, Profar’s big league path began to crystallize after the Rangers sent incumbent second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit for slugger Prince Fielder. Since the previous winter had produced an extension for shortstop Elvis Andrus (for reasons that remain murky at best), the Kinsler trade created a hole at second base appeared to be created for a long term, consistent position for Profar. Sadly, it didn’t happen. After a late spring training affair with the Padres, Profar was diagnosed with a torn shoulder muscle. The first timetable for the injury put Profar on the shelf for 10-12 weeks. A setback in his rehab would cause him to miss the entirety of the 2014 season.
Things got worse in 2015. While spring brought the promise of a new season to most players, it brought another shoulder injury to Profar. In February, Profar went under the knife, with hopes that surgery to repair his torn labrum would fix the root of his injury problems. He returned to the field in late August, ahead of schedule. Forty-seven uninspiring plate appearances in High-A and Double-A later and the regular season was over.
For the first time in his career, the Rangers sent Profar to the Arizona Fall League for some more reps after the season. While he didn’t play in the field, serving exclusively as a designated hitter, Profar posted very Profar-y numbers, including an .805 OPS with a .358 wOBA in 91 plate appearances. He walked 11 times, while striking out only 10. Now, ask anyone and they’ll tell you not to put too much faith in Arizona Fall League numbers. I agree, but the numbers aren’t really the story. The story is that Profar was on the field, consistently, and looked like Profar at the plate.
Thus far in 2016, Profar garnered 26 plate appearances with the big club in Spring Training before being reassigned to minor league camp. He wasn’t especially great in those plate appearances, with just four singles. However, again, the production isn’t the story. The fact that Profar has made it through spring training (knock on wood) and even played in the field defensively is far more important. Additionally, while the takeaway from the Arizona Fall League was Profar at the plate, his presence in between the lines was the most promising aspect of the spring. Profar played shortstop, and made throws that major league shortstops are expected to make. That’s huge.
The landscape of the Rangers’ depth chart looks vastly different than the last time Profar knocked on the door. Yes, Andrus and his onerous contract are still firmly entrenched at shortstop, but Rougned Odor has emerged as one of the most exciting, young second basemen in the league. Left field looked like an area of need, but the Rangers signed ex-shortstop Ian Desmond to patrol the area, and can supplement Desmond with Josh Hamilton until his leg falls off again (Hamilton injury jokes in a Profar piece. Pot. Kettle. Whatever.). The pipeline for the Rangers isn’t any less loaded. With Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, and Lewis Brinson all due time in the near future, even a healthy Profar could be hard pressed for playing time. Still, Profar is someone you make a spot for.
Normally, I like to pull numbers that could indicate breakthroughs are possible, even imminent. Here’s the problem: Profar hasn’t been on the field enough to make intelligent (fine, intelligent is debatable) analysis and prognostications. That means betting on Profar would be betting on the underlying skills as opposed to trusting the most recent numbers. In this case, I’m cool with that. Profar was seen as a no doubter only three years ago. He just turned 23 years old. Even if it’s not in Texas, Profar will be in the major leagues this season even if he’s starting the year in Triple-A. Coming off two basically lost seasons, Profar’s stock is likely at an all time low. Now is the time to buy, especially at the lowered cost, and reap the benefits in dynasty leagues for years to come. When in doubt, bet on talent, especially if you’re a rebuilding dynasty franchise.