When it’s Jurickson Profar, there are two pertinent questions:
How good is he? How good will he be?
When it’s the Texas Rangers, the same two questions now apply after a rough June.
For the Rangers, however, a long homestand ended Thursday afternoon, and what started as a full-blown disaster actually ended on the upbeat. With a series-finale 4-3 win over the Oakland A’s, the Rangers took three out of four in a testy AL West matchup.
Even a 4-7 homestand record looked rather appealing, the way it wrapped up.
Meanwhile, there’s the case of Profar. It’s not so upbeat at the moment.
A year ago, Profar was ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Number One. So said such national media outlets as Baseball America and ESPN.
While such a lofty evaluation for the kid was just opinion, there didn’t seem to be much disagreement around the rest of the game, and certainly not by those who work the front office in Arlington.
More important, however, the then 19-year-old Profar was also regarded as the Rangers’ bailout option. That’s your hammer, right there. A bailout option is the most valuable commodity in the game.
Need a front-line pitcher? Need a front-line hitter? Profar could fetch that in a trade, or so the thinking went.
And if the Rangers had an infield need, well, Profar could also immediately solve that. Or so the thinking went.
Which brings us to the current situation with the Rangers and Profar. As late June approaches, and as the 20-year-old Profar surpassed the 100 mark this week in plate appearances for the season, and as he plays now as a lineup regular, the early verdict is what?
Welcome to how the “prospect game” works.
When asking scouts and other baseball people this week for their current evaluation of Profar, the same initial response came from each one.
“The Rangers overrated him.”
My rebuttal: Name me one MLB team that doesn’t overrate its prospects. Thirty out of 30 do it and basically always have done it.
Most of all, however, isn’t it far too early for “overrated” to be applied to a 20-year-old player?
But I was the one asking for the opinion on Profar, and when guys who make a living evaluating players do the speaking, I’ve found it wise to do the listening.
The issue for Profar is two-fold.
No. 1, the beauty of a prospect in his minor league journey is the unknown. Tearing it up in Frisco or Round Rock creates the mystery element for scouts attempting to determine how all that will eventually translate on the major league level.
No. 2, the mystery element has now been removed, maybe prematurely, but more than 100 plate appearances for the Rangers, while playing regularly, gives scouts a solid early look.
The look has not been good. Even the media and fandom gushing over Profar has been greatly reduced.
When the kid came up in May, he wasn’t playing regularly but was basically producing when he was in there. The high point came on June 2 when an eighth-inning home run against Kansas City won the game. He was suddenly Babe Ruth for many on local sports talk radio.
Since then, Profar is a meager 13 for 55 over 15 games, with three extra-base hits and exactly one RBI. The three extras were doubles, two of them bloopers, one to right field, the other to left.
During the homestand a lack of solid contact became noticeable. Actually, Profar had a problem getting the ball out of the infield.
Going back to spring training in Arizona, when Profar was in camp and supposedly being given an opportunity to make the big club, it was obvious that Ron Washington and his coaching staff were attempting to low ball expectations for the kid.
And even last week, Washington was firm in saying Profar would be better served going to Round Rock and playing every day after Ian Kinsler returned from the disabled list.
Jon Daniels thought otherwise. He wanted Profar here, and in the lineup regularly at different positions. So Profar is here, and moving around. On Thursday afternoon against the A’s, he was starting at second.
In Arizona, I never heard scouts from other teams saying Profar was a superstar in the making. What I heard was he would become a good or pretty good player, not a great player. This week, it’s been the same when scouts were asked to project on Profar. Good, not great. Or overrated.
Fans counter with, “It’s been a team-wide batting slump, so Profar hasn’t been any worse than most everybody else.”
But Profar was the bailout option. Not a Murphy, not a Berkman. Profar was the guy who could supposedly fetch something big if he were traded. His current struggles have possible short- and long-range repercussions.
The team company line is Profar is one of “our best 25,” so he needs to be here to “help us win now.” OK, but trade value-wise, Profar was once considered the kid who could “help” the team win in another way.
I suggested to one scout this week that a Profar for David Price trade, as has been speculated in the past, might not now be a reality.
“It would be if the Rangers want to include Darvish with Profar,” he said. I think he was joking, but his message was clear.
After last season, the standard for 20-year-olds also went through the roof. A kid named Trout and a kid named Harper were 20-year-old monsters a year ago.
Profar cannot be a Harper or a Trout. He’s not that talented. But he can be, maybe, good. That’s what the scouts and baseball people were saying this week. Not a star, but, maybe, good.
For now, Profar is a long way from being good. But it’s the bailout element that has been greatly reduced. Major league exposure in June has taken away the minor league phenom lure, at least so far.