By all acknowledgements, Jurickson Profar remains the Texas Rangers’ shortstop of the future.
But no one’s exactly sure when that future will begin.
We know it won’t be on Opening Day on Sunday. We’re not sure if it’s in June. We can’t tell if it’ll be ever since he’s stuck behind incumbent, two-time All-Star Elvis Andrus in the pecking order.
We’re really not even positive Profar’s a major-league player yet, much less a star. That’s part of the reason he was sent down Tuesday, which was absolutely the right decision.
Texas has a shortstop, a damn good one, and an effervescent, charismatic player who is just approaching his prime at 24.
Both are far too valuable to this franchise to screw this up.
Texas would be smart to try to convince Andrus, a Scott Boras client, to sign an extension on a contract that has two years left. That would allow the Rangers to move Profar for pitching. But that likelihood is doubtful, given Boras’ track record and the growing demand for proven shortstops for teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. How many games are left in Derek Jeter’s career?
As most expected, the best prospect in the Rangers organization — and one of the best in baseball — and certainly the most intriguing prospect will start the season in Round Rock even though he probably already ranks as one of the 25 best players in the franchise.
“They all earned spots on the team,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said of Profar and three others demoted to the Triple-A Express. “There just wasn’t a spot for them.”
And there shouldn’t be for Profar. Not yet. Texas is still trying to win a World Series, and why would it revamp an infield that has All-Stars at short, third and second as well as an emerging first baseman to experiment and start a switch-hitting 20-year-old with only 17 major-league at-bats to his name?
Profar wasn’t about to steal time from Andrus, as established a star at his position as there is in the majors outside a Jose Reyes or a Jeter. It made no sense to keep him up in the big leagues when he never even had an at-bat at Triple-A and has not proven anything.
Putting him on the big club and letting him sit and scrap for bits of playing time and at-bats would do neither him nor the club any good. Profar needs to play every day.
He may be good enough to play in Arlington.
He should play in Round Rock.
At least for a month or two.
Until Andrus or second baseman Ian Kinsler gets hurt. Until he’s mastered Triple-A pitching. Until the Rangers front office comes to the realization that Texas needs him to help win a pennant or trades either him or Andrus for pitching.
When I asked Ron Washington if Profar was pushing Andrus, the Rangers manager was aghast.
“Pushing Elvis?” Washington repeated. “Elvis is an All-Star. He’s already got his résumé.”
While most consider Profar the prize jewel in Texas’ farm system, a few scouts whisper that he’s over-rated, say that he doesn’t have one single overpowering tool and hint he might even be better suited for second base. Daniels said he’ll play there some in Round Rock.
Oh, they marvel at his skill set. He’s fearless. He’s a big-body shortstop who told me Tuesday he’s added 15 pounds to his frame and could add still more. He homered in his first major-league at-bat, but hasn’t left the yard in 45 spring plate appearances and is hitting just .244. Daniels said he’s had “a good camp,” but he didn’t wow anybody.
Profar might have more pop than Andrus, who has never hit more than six home runs in a season and only 14 for his career spanning 2,284 plate appearances. Andrus hit just three a year ago, but has shown much more power this spring and is on a tear with a .413 batting average and had a 14-game hitting streak until it was snapped Tuesday.
“I ain’t interested in his power,” Washington said. “I don’t care if he hits five home runs. If he drives in 60, scores 100 runs and steals 30 bases, I’ll be satisfied. He doesn’t have to hit 15 or 20 homers.”
Either Andrus or Profar could emerge as a prize bargaining chip for a key trade if Daniels can work a deal for a starting pitcher. But he’s more likely to wait a couple of months to see if Texas pans out as a primary contender. If the Rangers falter early, they could hang onto both until the trading deadline or the offseason.
Washington is more interested in the immediate future.
“Don’t lock in on anything,” he said, “or you might get locked out.”
Profar’s still no lock to be a major-league success, but he may be the next best thing. Kind of like he’s the next-best shortstop right now.