Once the 8:05 first pitch finally rolls around Saturday night, Rougned Odor will be back at second base for the Texas Rangers after spending a week in the baseball clink.
His May 15 punch heard round the baseball world, all the way to the MLB office where punishment is meted out for such on-field behavior, could have been a problem for the Rangers’ offense.
Instead, it has created another kind of problem.
The problem can be viewed as a good one: what to do with a former top prospect who in six games as Odor’s replacement has shown that he can help out the big-league club after only two months in the minors following two missed seasons.
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But there’s a problem with that good problem. There’s no avenue for Profar to play regularly once Odor returns, and if Profar does stay he won’t play every day. He’ll be a utility player, a role the Rangers typically try to avoid with young, developing players.
That’s what Profar still is. Even though he shed his rookie status in 2013, he still doesn’t have 400 at-bats in the major leagues.
4 Games per week Jurickson Profar would need to play to stay consistent and help the Rangers, according to manager Jeff Banister
So the Rangers spent their off day continuing to try to figure out what to do with Profar. They must decide if keeping him for a long stretch would do more harm to him than good to him and the ballclub.
“You don’t necessarily want a premium prospect missing at-bats and playing time in the field for extended periods of time,” manager Jeff Banister said Wednesday. “I think anytime beyond five, six or seven days, you want those guys out playing.”
With that, Banister left open the possibility that Profar stays in the majors along with incumbent utility infielder Hanser Alberto until outfielders Shin-Soo Choo (strained left hamstring) and Drew Stubbs (strained left toe) return from the disabled list.
Anything beyond that, though, might be difficult for the Rangers to justify. Banister said that Profar would need four games a week to continue the process of getting acclimated to baseball again after missing the 2014 and 2015 seasons because of a shoulder injury.
Unless the Rangers are willing to sit shortstop Elvis Andrus and Odor, the roadblocks in front of Profar being a lineup regular, as well as designated hitter Prince Fielder at least once a week, Profar won’t hit the four-game minimum.
The Rangers seem reluctant to put him at third in relief of Adrian Beltre, and games in left field would be forcing the issue and potentially jeopardizing the health of Profar’s surgically repaired right shoulder.
Banister said that Profar is a little different than, say, Nomar Mazara was when he debuted in April, because he has spent a season in the majors. But he also spent two seasons on the sidelines, and throughout all of the off-season and spring training, the Rangers’ stance was that Profar needed to play every day in the minors to regain his traction.
He admits that he hasn’t caught up entirely even though he has a hit in all six of his games, has connected for a home run, scored seven runs and is batting .357 with a .571 slugging percentage.
We’ve been lucky, especially lucky, to have a guy like that be able to plug in and play for us and still have Alberto be that utility player.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister on Jurickson Profar
“We’ve been lucky, especially lucky, to have a guy like that be able to plug in and play for us and still have Alberto be that utility player,” Banister said.
Only three weeks have passed since Profar told reporters before a Yu Darvish rehab start at Triple A Round Rock that he wasn’t yet ready for the major leagues. Profar wasn’t entirely satisfied with the quality of his at-bats, though he had no concerns about the strength of his shoulder.
Even after his first six games in the majors since 2013, Profar said that he still isn’t quite where he needs to be at the plate. Triple A pitchers rely on their off-speed stuff more to get batters out and are craftier than in the majors, where pitchers are constantly on the attack.
Not playing every day would keep him from continuing to make that adjustment. Even as a super utility player in 2013, playing up to four times a week, Profar struggled to make adjustments en route to a .234 average in 285 at-bats.
He was 20 then. Even at 23 now, he remains inexperienced after two lost seasons and perhaps 1,100 lost at-bats.
“I’m having very good at-bats,” Profar said. “I’m starting to feel it again, being good, but I still have to adjust myself a little bit more.”
I’m having very good at-bats. I’m starting to feel it again, being good, but I still have to adjust myself a little bit more.
Profar said that he would be OK if the Rangers decided to keep him, albeit reluctantly. It’s not hard to sense that Profar might be happier playing every day at Triple A than sporadically as an MLB utility man.
“I like it in here, especially when we’re winning,” Profar said. “But I don’t like that role. For the short term, yes.”
Alberto has been the utility man since Opening Day but has had only 36 at-bats in 10 starts and 11 appearances late in games. He’s batting .167 and could probably use time playing every day in the minors to get his bat going, too.
But Alberto isn’t exactly hurting the Rangers despite his low production. He hasn’t been given enough of a chance to hurt or help them, and that potentially is what Profar would be facing if the Rangers decided to keep him on the roster in a reserve role after Odor returns.
“You either have a level of play that he has enough at-bats and playing time in the field to continue to stay consistent with what he’s doing and still add value to a ballclub,” Banister said. “If not he probably needs to be playing every day.”
Rangers vs. Mariners
7:05 p.m. Friday, FSSW