March 5, 2013

Rangers’ top prospects can benefit from WBC absences

Expect to see plenty of Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar the next few weeks.

For all the things that Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt do well on a baseball field, they also score highly on for their grasps on reality.

They know that they have a chance to make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster, but they also are fully aware that their seasons might begin at Triple A Round Rock.

The club’s top prospects also aren’t kidding themselves after the starters blocking them at their positions left camp Sunday for the World Baseball Classic.

“I’m not going to take Nelson Cruz’s job,” Olt said.

He’s right, sort of. Olt could end up taking many of Cruz’s starts in right field this spring, and Profar will likely soak up the majority of games that Elvis Andrus would ordinarily play.

Cruz and Andrus are two of the six Rangers players in big-league camp — and the only two everyday players — who will participate in the WBC, which started Friday in the Far East and continues this week in Puerto Rico and Phoenix. The tournament runs through March 20.

Olt and Profar are two of several players in camp who will fill in and possibly bolster their roster chances if they take advantage of the extra playing time.

“It’s not just going to be Profar and Olt,” manager Ron Washington said. “They all will get a chance to show up and start ballgames and get a chance. It’s a chance for those guys.”

Profar and Olt started Sunday, the first day without Andrus and Cruz, though Olt played third base.

The Rangers know what Profar can do, and the extra reps are going to help him work out his timing at the plate more than anything else. The question the Rangers have is whether Profar can be effective off the bench without regular playing time.

With three All-Stars already in the infield, Profar would be lucky to start one game a week, let alone get the 350 at-bats club CEO Nolan Ryan said he needs to not stunt his development.

“Of course, I want to play,” said Profar, who turned down a chance to play for the Netherlands to increase his chances at making the Rangers’ roster. “I’d just like to give 100 percent on the field and see what’s going to happen.”

The Rangers haven’t been keeping Profar and Olt stewing on the bench. Each has played in all 11 Rangers games this spring, with Olt getting more starts at third base because of the cautious approach that was taken with Adrian Beltre’s sore right calf.

Olt was fighting some issues with his swing until launching a two-run homer Feb. 26. He is also busy trying to get a feel for right field, where the Rangers could have a vacancy should Cruz be slapped with a 50-game suspension for his involvement with a Miami anti-aging clinic that reportedly distributed banned substances to him and several other major leaguers.

Olt appeared in right field for the first time Thursday but was back at third, his best position, over the weekend and Monday.

“It’s good that we have a lot of guys going to the WBC because it’s a huge honor and says a lot about the team,” Olt said. “It’ll be good to go out to right field. It’s good for the young guys just getting in there and facing good pitching and getting used to being in certain situations.”

The Rangers will have no choice during the WBC but to use players who need strong springs to make the big-league roster. But club officials don’t want those fill-ins to feel a sense of urgency that this is their best chance to make an impression.

That might be easier said than done. An opportunity for regular playing time, such as the one being given to a group headlined by Profar and Olt, doesn’t come along often.

“I certainly hope they’re not running around thinking they’ve got to impress anybody,” Washington said. “The only people they’ve got to impress is themselves, because if you’re impressed with what you’re doing, it impresses everyone else.”

Those headed to the WBC — Andrus, Cruz, Derek Holland, Leury Garcia, Jose Felix and Engel Beltre — said they are honored to be representing their countries. Cruz is the only one with previous WBC experience, having played for the Dominican Republic in 2009.

“Just to be a part of that group of guys is awesome and something you dream about,” said Holland, who started Team USA’s exhibition game Tuesday and will face Canada on Sunday. “You’re representing your country, and I’m representing the Rangers, too.”

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