On Monday, a report came out quoting Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels stating that the team’s top two prospects, shortstop Jurickson Profar and third baseman Mike Olt, will likely begin the season in the minor leagues unless the Rangers have full-time at-bats for them. Daniels was quoted in the article as saying “we believe in Mitch Moreland.”
Moreland, of course, is the Rangers’ starting first baseman, a title which, as long as he holds it, has a domino effect on the rest of the Rangers lineup and the immediate futures of Profar and Olt. To fit Profar into their lineup, the Rangers have toyed with the idea of sliding current second baseman Ian Kinsler over in the infield and making him their full-time first baseman and having Profar replace Kinsler at second base. Instead, it appears that the Rangers would prefer to keep Moreland in the daily lineup and Profar in the minors for the time being.
There is no rush for Profar, who will turn just 20 this spring, but the question the Rangers should be asking themselves is, “who gives us a better chance to win, Profar or Moreland?” Even at 20, it’s hard to believe that Profar won’t provide the Rangers with more value than Mitch Moreland.
In 2012, Moreland was a 0.6-win player in almost full playing time. Profar’s defense at second base alone should be worth more than that. Of course, if we’re going to compare this properly, we have to take Profar’s value plus Kinsler’s value as a first baseman and compare it to Moreland and Kinsler’s value as a second baseman. After all, Kinsler’s value diminishes as he moves down the defensive spectrum.
Kinsler, in 2012, was a 3.2-win player. To replicate that value while playing primarily first base, his offensive numbers will have to get back to their 2011 level, a task that isn’t impossible. Most likely, he’ll be a two- or three-win player as a first baseman.
Let’s be conservative and say that Kinsler is a two-win player at first base in 2013. That’s a 1.4-win upgrade at first base over Moreland, who has more of the traditional first base attributes because he’s big and hits some home runs, but in reality, doesn’t get on base much, has only moderate power (below average for a first baseman) and can’t hit lefties (career .621 OPS). That means Profar would have to be only a 1.8-win player at second base to be more valuable than Moreland. Even at age 20, that seems extremely realistic.
An argument can be made that, by keeping Profar in the minors for more development, the Rangers will get more value out of their six guaranteed years of controlling him. After all, he will probably be a better player in his 27- and 28-year old seasons than he is at 20 and 21. And for most teams, that’s a realistic dilemma to consider. But the Rangers are working with a rare window of World Series contention and now is not the time to worry about those differences. Now is the time to put their best team on the field.
There is an argument to be made that their best team might involve Moreland instead of Profar, but it would then have to include Olt. The only way the Rangers can justify playing Moreland regularly is if they have a right-handed platoon option for him. Last season, they had catcher Mike Napoli, who made 24 starts at first base. This year, the Rangers have no such option other than Olt.
Olt should eventually turn himself into a better player than just the right-handed half of a first base platoon, but that’s the role the Rangers need him for this season if they plan to leave Kinsler at second base, Profar in the minors, and Moreland as an everyday player. It may not be the best use of one of Olt’s inexpensive pre-arbitration seasons, but it’s the one that fits their needs right now, and who knows, the opportunity to succeed in the majors could lead to him stealing more and more of Moreland’s playing time as the season progresses.
But the best option for the Rangers this season appears to be using Profar at second and Kinsler at first. There is almost no chance that the Rangers can keep Profar in the minors for the entire 2013 season, so they’re going to have to find a spot for him at some point. If that spot is going to be second base, then Kinsler will have to learn a new position. Trying to do so on the fly in the middle of the season as opposed to in spring training seems to be setting him up to fail.