In the aftermath of the community prospect rankings wrapping up last year, I figured I'd do write-ups for each Ranger prospect who finished in the top 25, in the order that they were selected. It was something that seemed to go well, and so I’ve decided to do this again.
Two caveats about this: First, I have no first-hand information about most of these guys, and for the hard-core prospect-philes out there, you probably already know everything that I'll be writing about these players.
Secondly, since I did this last season, a lot of the material is going to be a repeat from last year. I’m going to cut-and-paste certain things from last year, simply because I don’t see the need to completely re-invent the wheel in terms of talking about what Martin Perez did in 2008 or something like that. So don’t come complain about that.
So, with that out of the way, we start off by taking a look at the #1 player in the LSB Community Prospect Rankings, shortstop Jurickson Profar...
Jurickson Profar, son of Judeska and Chesmond, first made a splash on the international baseball scene when his Curacao Little League team appeared in the championship game of the LLWS in back-to-back years in 2004 and 2005, winning it all in 2004, but falling short in 2005.
Profar was a highly regarded amateur free agent who was signed by the Rangers during the 2009 July 2 signing period for a $1.55 million bonus. Luis Sardinas was the other big signing by the Rangers from that class, getting a $1.5 million bonus (at the time, Profar’s bonus was the 16th highest of all time and Sardinas was the 18th highest of all time for J-2 signees), and many prognosticators thought Sardinas was the better prospect at the time. Most teams, in 2009, were pursuing Profar as a pitcher, but he was adamant about wanting to play in the field; only the Rangers and Orioles had a high level of interest in him as a shortstop, and there was some thought that the Rangers would let him try the field initially, then move him to the mound if (or when) his bat failed to produce.
Profar has, instead, exceeded all expectations since coming to the States, and has established himself, by all accounts, as one of the top two prospects in baseball (with some having him first, some having him behind Orioles’ pitching prospect Dylan Bundy). Listed at just 5'11", 165 lbs, the 17 year old Profar was thrust into the Northwest League in 2010, getting matched up against players who were generally 3-4 years older than him. Still, he held his own, putting up a .250/.323/.373 line while impressing those who saw him with his defense, his leadership, and his instincts.
The Rangers challenged Profar by sending him to Sally League for 2011, where he was the youngest player in the league on the Opening Day roster. The hope was that he'd again hold his own, show some progress...and Profar responded by putting up a .286/.390/.493 line, stealing 23 bases, and being named the league MVP. Profar was named the #3 prospect in the Sally League for 2011 in BA's list, behind Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and was listed #7 in Baseball America’s top 100 list for 2012.
The Rangers challenged Profar once again in 2012, jumping him two levels to AA Frisco, where he was the youngest player in the Texas League. And yet, he put up a .281/.368/.452 line in 562 plate appearances, playing mostly shortstop, but also picking up innings at second base and third base. Baseball America ranked Profar #1 in the Texas League this year, and his performance earned him a promotion to the majors when rosters expanded in September, where he homered in his first major league at bat and followed that up with a double. Profar got limited time after that, and ended the season with a line of .176/.176/.461 in 17 plate appearances with the big club, but he definitely turned heads and impressed those who followed him with his attitude and savvy.
Profar is fascinating in no small part because of how he defies conventional wisdom. The majority of high-profile J-2 amateur signees are 16 year olds who have impressive raw tools, but little actual game experience, particularly compared to American teenagers who are often playing in leagues and tournaments year-round. They are players who ooze potential, but who have miles upon miles to go before that potential can be actualized.
Jurickson Profar, though toolsy, isn't that sort of player. His tools, by all accounts, rate as solid across the board, but he doesn't have any one truly elite tool that stands out like, say, Joey Gallo’s light-tower power or Billy Hamilton’s incredible speed. What Profar does have, though, is what has been described as "off-the-charts makeup," terrific baseball instincts, and a maturity beyond his years. He's a five-tool player, but unlike many five tool guys who are athletes that organizations are trying to turn into ballplayers, Profar is a ballplayer with athleticism.
Last year, I asked how the youngest player in the league puts up an 883 OPS while playing quality defense at shortstop and getting raves about his makeup doesn't end up in the top five prospects in baseball. I suggested then that the knocks, such as they are, have to do with ceiling moreso than anything else. With his advanced skill-set and solid-but-not-elite individual tools, there's going to be questions about how much growth potential he has, how much better he can really get. He could be a player (like, for example, Elvis Andrus) who reaches the majors early and establishes himself as a quality player at a young age, but who has a flatter growth curve than what you would normally expect from a player who holds his own in the majors before he can legally drink.
Then, of course, he does what he did in 2012, and now is the #1 prospect in baseball. I think that is a reflection of his proximity and how that gives him a higher floor more than it is belief that his ceiling has increased. As I said last year, it is hard to downgrade a guy too much because you think he profiles more as a solid first-division starter who will make some All Star teams rather than a perennial MVP candidates and future Hall of Famer.
The big dilemma at this point is what to do with Profar. Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler will start the 2013 up the middle, which means that, barring an injury to one of those two players, Profar will be starting the season in AAA. He could probably play in the majors right now and hold his own, but I don’t see that there’s a problem with letting him start the season in AAA and holding off starting his free agency clock, while letting him get some more experience against much older players.
But at some point he’ll either be playing shortstop or second base for the Rangers. Jason Parks has said he thinks Elvis will be the better player for a few years, even though Profar has the higher ceiling, because Elvis is the superior defender at shortstop. The thought at one point was that Kinsler might move to first base this season, with Profar sliding in at second base. At either position, though, Profar should be an asset from the time he gets here.
If everything were to go right, what could Profar be? If you want to dream, you’ve got a .300 hitting shortstop with some power, good patience, some speed, and quality defense. Think someone like Alan Trammell or Barry Larkin – a guy with a dozen All Star appearances and an MVP-caliber season or three.