This Texas Rangers spring training camp opened two weeks ago with a blast of Cactus League steam aimed squarely at one Jurickson Profar.
So young. So gifted.
Only 20, and rated as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, Profar was regarded as not only a Surprise focal point, but national publications had the kid as one of the top 10 most intriguing stories among every major league camp.
The question on Profar this spring is ongoing:
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Can he force his way onto the big league roster by lighting up Arizona?
And if he does light up Arizona, and ends up with the Rangers in late March, what happens next?
Trade Elvis Andrus?
Trade Ian Kinsler?
An opening at shortstop, Profar’s natural position, would have to happen. But Elvis is there.
An off-season plan to give Profar the second-base job ended when Kinsler’s agent rejected moving his client to first base.
And despite the previous speculation, making Profar a super utility player for the Rangers is not going to happen.
But with Elvis leaving the team next week to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, “we are going to see plenty of Profar [at shortstop], and, frankly, I think he will impress us,” manager Ron Washington said Sunday. “He’s not scared of the game. He’s got all this talent, but he’s also not scared of the game.”
Profar started against the Royals Sunday in a 7-5 loss, and handled all his chances at shortstop, plus drew a couple of walks. One coaching staff member remarked “he’s been fine so far. Not a standout, but impressive enough that he’s noticed. The future is bright.”
But the strong guess is the major league future for Profar is later in the summer, or next season. Round Rock will almost definitely be his late March destination.
The kicker, however, is the ongoing camp praise for Andrus, who is only 24, despite being a four-year starter for the Rangers.
I keep hearing it in this camp:
Elvis is a big-time star waiting to happen, and the big-time tag will happen this season. Talking to staff members, Andrus is getting the most rave reviews of any team member.
“Physically, we see a stronger Elvis, there’s no doubt about that,” Washington said. “Early on, a pitcher could almost knock the bat out of his hands at times. No more. That started to change last season. This season we are seeing the strength, the maturing, and the overall experience go to the next level.”
But Washington wasn’t finished with his praise.
“More than anything, Elvis is growing up mentally,” he said. “He’s still the good-time kid with the big smile, but he’s the guy you now want up there when the deep [bleep] is on the line.
“The first couple of years, I had to stay on his butt all the time about keeping it serious. Mike [Michael Young] was right there with me. Now I have backed off because Beltre [Adrian] takes care of that when needed.
“But Elvis has become a pro. He’s figured out when it’s time to get serious. He’s got a lot of killer in him now.”
Back to Profar.
Is the kid the Rangers’ future shortstop, since Elvis has two contractual years remaining and an agent (Scott Boras) who normally takes his clients to free agency?
A quick survey among staff members here over the weekend was overwhelming in favor of giving Andrus the big long-term money instead of gambling on Profar’s future.
“We think we know about Profar, but we know we know about Elvis,” one coach said. “If I’m asked by the front office, I’m saying Elvis is a franchise player.”
The Rangers cannot afford to trade Elvis now, even if that was the plan, which it’s not.
But there’s no doubt about a balancing act being in play involving the future in the organization of both Profar and Andrus. Certainly there are those in the front office who think Profar is the next Elvis, and maybe even a better edition.
Without doubt, however, that is certainly not an opinion shared by all. The way I’m hearing it out here, Elvis is actually the guy to keep at shortstop.
From there, you have to factor in what it will cost, financially, to tie down Andrus long-term.
Plus, Profar’s potential has more trade value at the moment because of Elvis’ contractual status.
Then again, trading Profar is also obviously not in the immediate plans, and wouldn’t happen without a new contract for Andrus.
For now, none of this is a problem for the Rangers. Or, it’s a good kind of problem to have.
Two weeks ago, this camp opened with all the media steam focused on Profar, and understandably so.
But at the moment, the rave reviews are coming for Elvis. With a month to go in Arizona, it’s a situation well worth watching. Big-time future ramifications are certainly involved.