Friday, March 22, 2013
Jurickson Profar must play every day
By Jim Bowden ESPN.com
If the following scenario sounds keenly familiar to Texas Rangers fans, it should.
A veteran player realizes he must move to another position to make room for a young budding star, despite making the All-Star team and earning a Gold Glove the prior season. He refuses at first, but finally relents knowing the move is what’s best for the team.
In 2009, after being a five time All-Star and coming off two straight Gold Glove campaigns, the Rangers moved Michael Young from shortstop to third base to make room for an exciting prospect named Elvis Andrus. Still seemingly in the prime of his career, Young bristled at first but eventually knew the team came first and shifted over.
Fast-forward to this spring training, where prospect Jurickson Profar has forced the Rangers into another tough decision. Profar is the best middle infield prospect in baseball. His talent says he's ready to be an everyday player at the major league level. Frankly, the Rangers should have named Profar their everyday second baseman before spring training even started. But that means All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler must move to first base.
Texas' ideal tandem up the middle is Andrus at shortstop and Profar at second base, and the quicker the Rangers engage that plan, the better off they will be. The key for Texas is they enjoy the luxury of having adequate personnel at other positions to make such a move possible. To be sure, Kinsler remains an All-Star caliber second baseman. But if Profar can produce similarly at second, moving Kinsler to first upgrades every position as Mitch Moreland and David Murphy can compete for or platoon in left field. This would give the Rangers the best possible short- and long-term infield defense, as well as their optimum lineup. But only if Profar plays every day.
Like Young before him, Kinsler has said he doesn’t want to move. I have empathy for Kinsler and his desire to remain at second, but the fact is the team always must come first. They also asked Young to move to third base for Kinsler and then ultimately from third to DH for Adrian Beltre. This situation is no different, and Kinsler should agree to do what's best for the team.
The Rangers lost a significant part of the offense with the offseason free-agent movement of Josh Hamilton, Young and Mike Napoli. Signing Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski will help, but doesn't make up for the loss of Hamilton. Profar is such a special middle infield talent that putting him in the lineup every day could be a difference-maker, especially for a team that now has to win with pitching, defense and speed.
However, if the Rangers aren't going to play Profar every day, they should option him to Triple-A and let him continue to develop. Remember, Profar went from Double-A straight to the big leagues, so he hasn't had the chance to develop against older Triple-A pitchers with decent secondary stuff. It won't hurt him to have a chance to get another 500 at-bats for development. Profar has never hit .300 at any level, never hit 15 home runs in a season, never stolen 25 bases in a year, and yet his ability says he should be able to accomplish all of those in time at the major league level.
Certainly there’s no shame for Profar to head back to minor leagues. Several other top prospects in the game whose major league readiness is debatable will start the year in Triple-A, just as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper did last season.
For instance, St. Louis’ Oscar Tavares, like Profar, appears major league ready but is blocked by Carlos Beltran in right field and Matt Holliday in left. Rather than have him play part time or rot on the bench, better to option him out and let him get steady at-bats in Triple-A. Then he can be ready either for an injury to one of the aforementioned veterans or for 2014 when Beltran is expected to depart as a free agent.
Rangers president and general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington agree they won’t keep Profar as a traditional bench player. However, Washington thinks if he can find semi-regular at-bats for Profar, perhaps 300 or so, they will give that plan serious consideration.
In my mind, that would be a mistake. For Profar to fill in at second base, shortstop and DH is really wasting critical development time and could actually impede his progress. It's also not healthy for the team if Kinsler and Andrus, its two best players, want to be out there every day but are asked to sit down once a week. It’s senseless, especially to start the season.
Bottom line, the Rangers know what the optimum lineup and defensive positioning is and that’s with Profar at second base. Otherwise, optioning him to Triple-A is the best alternative both for the Rangers and Profar. One wrinkle to this scenario is the team’s long-term perspective of Andrus. If the Rangers think they'll be able to sign Andrus to a long-term contract (he's currently signed through 2014), then Profar should immediately be put at second base every day and Daniels should plan on eventually moving Kinsler (signed through 2017 with a club option for 2018) to first or left field or trading him for an upgrade at either one of those positions.
Every spring several general managers get caught in the position of making tough decisions on their top prospects. It’s a slippery slope because ultimately Daniels’ job is to outfit Washington with the weapons he needs to win. And rest assured, Washington will beg and plead to break camp with Profar. But it’s also a general manager’s responsibility to do what’s best for the team and player, and sometimes that means being patient. Regardless, Profar must play every day wherever he is assigned.