By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Jurickson Profar was already a household name among Ranger fans who religiously read the Newberg Report and/or listen to the flagship station’s post-game call-in show when he stepped up to the plate for his first big league at-bat last Sept. 2 in Cleveland.
Already the top minor league prospect in baseball, Profar didn’t need to win over that segment of Rangers Nation. But for some of the other 3.5 million fans who went through the turnstiles last season, or who watch or listen to the Rangers, Profar left an indelible impression with his first Major League at-bat.
The teenager belted the fourth pitch he saw for a home run over the right-field fence at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field.
And the love affair was on.
“I guess it's a pretty big thing,” said Profar after the game, wearing a celebratory shaving cream pie on his face administered by Elvis Andrus.
Yes, Profar is a big thing.
Already this winter he has been tabbed the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law. Profar takes over that designation from the Angels’ Mike Trout, the American League’s reigning Rookie of the Year.
And like Trout last season, Profar, for all of the 20-year-old’s talents, will not begin the season with the Rangers in Houston (Texas opens the season March 31 against the Astros at Minutemaid Park).
Profar will play his first regular season game with the Triple A Round Rock Express, just like Trout did last year with the Salt Lake Bees.
Why, you ask, are the Rangers holding back their top prospect? A kid who became the third teenager in Major League history to homer in his first at-bat (you may never have heard of the other two, the Giants' Whitey Lockman in 1945 and Reds' Ted Tappe in 1950)?
There are a number of reasons — some worth debating — as to why Profar won’t be with the Rangers.
Let’s start with the obvious — the Rangers have an emerging superstar at Profar’s natural position, shortstop, in Elvis Andrus. And they have an All-Star second baseman, Ian Kinsler.
Kinsler originally said in the offseason that he would be willing to move to the outfield, then came back to club officials and said he didn’t feel comfortable with the switch. It makes sense for the 30-year-old Kinsler not to change, for financial reasons if nothing else (offensively, he is still one of Top 5 second basemen in the game).
With Profar essentially unproven, there’s no reason not to go with the experienced tandem of Kinsler and Andrus. And there’s certainly no reason to risk injury by throwing Profar in the outfield mix (see Joaquin Arias, a top Rangers shortstop prospect now with the Giants who injured his throwing arm in a similar experiment several years back).
There’s the control factor. If Profar stays in the minors for six weeks, it buys the Rangers an extra year of controlling him contractually. They’d control him through 2019 rather than 2018.
With Andrus slated to become a free agent after next season, and possibly gone, the Rangers would be able to transition from one All-Star shortstop to another potential star at the position.
Also, if Profar is going to be nothing more than a super utility guy for the Rangers to start the season — which he would have been — why waste the first of those six years of control?
And of course, there’s the one big debate — is Profar ready for the 162-game grind that is the Majors?
The home run in his first at-bat. The glimpses we saw of him last September. There are some who thought Profar should have been used more last season as the Rangers slumped, collapsed and gave away a huge lead in the American League West.
He’s probably ready, but with talent already established, why rush it?
Profar dazzled to begin spring training. He walked six times in his first 16 plate appearances, showing discipline beyond his years. But he ended the spring batting .244 with a .346 on-base percentage and was sent to Round Rock this week.
He’s ready defensively. His manager, who chose not to use him more last September, is a big fan.
“The kid is in the game,” Washington said this spring. “He has been impressive. The more you watch him, the more he grows on you.”
Eventually, Profar will starting growing as a Ranger, it’s just the when part we don’t know.