The Rangers have painted themselves into a cornerby Jeff Moore
June 18, 2013
With the return of Ian Kinsler from the disabled list, the Rangers were forced to make a decision on top prospect Jurickson Profar. He had been the primary fill-in at second base for Kinsler during his absence, although inexplicably the Rangers elected not to start him at second or his natural shortstop position in a quarter (seven) of the 28 games Kinsler missed.
But now upon Kinsler's return, the Rangers have three choices if they want Profar to continue see consistent at-bats: (1) send him back to Triple-A where he can play every day, (2) find another position on the field for Profar, or (3) find another position on the field for Kinsler.
With their desire to keep the most talented team on the major league roster (which seems obvious, but isn't always the only determining factor when it comes to roster decisions), the Rangers have elected to send utility infielder Leury Garcia to the minors and keep Profar on the major league roster, leaving them with the best team on paper, but the challenge of working Profar into the lineup on some sort of regular basis.
It also leaves the Rangers right back where they were in spring training.
This situation could not have come as a surprise for the Rangers, and yet they are scrambling for ideas like a panicked babysitter looking for a clean diaper. Ideas were tossed about all spring in an attempt to find a way to get Profar, Kinsler and current shortstop Elvis Andrus all in the lineup at the same time. The solution in April was to send Profar to Triple-A, which was essentially just delaying the inevitable dilemma that is now at hand. Moving Kinsler either to first base or left field was considered, and Kinsler said all the right things despite reports that he might not be too keen on the idea of moving.
Asking a veteran to move is one thing. Asking him to move midseason is another altogether. A position change is bound to come with an embarrassing moment or two, and veteran players are a proud bunch who don't like to be embarrassed. If the Rangers were going to move Kinsler, the time was this March, or the time will be this winter. The time is not now.
Which leaves Profar as the one to move. Such is the hierarchy of baseball. The Rangers came to this conclusion as well, declaring that they are going to attempt to turn Profar into a "functional left fielder" in an attempt to play him there a couple of times per week.
The idea of playing Profar in the outfield is fine, for now, given that the alternative is putting him in the minors or letting him waste away on the bench. It's certainly worth a shot, assuming that the move is only a temporary fix for this season. It wouldn't be the first time a top prospect played an inferior defensive position simply to work his bat into the lineup. We remember a 19-year-old Andruw Jones hitting two home runs in Game One of the 1996 World Series, but don't forget that be played primarily left field on that team after his call up, despite having all of the ability that let to 10 straight Gold Gloves starting just two years later.
So as long as this is a temporary move, the Rangers really have very little to lose here, and they haven't exactly told Profar to burn his infielder's glove. In fact, the plan remains to work him into the infield a few times a week as well, spelling Kinsler and Andrus occasionally while also working Kinsler in at DH from time to time. We don't know if Profar can handle left field, but between the options of Profar and Kinsler trying to learn a new position on the fly, I'll take the more cooperative 20-year-old with more athleticism any day.
But the fact that we don't know if Profar can handle the outfield is the real problem for the Rangers here, and it's the one that's going mostly overlooked. We can debate all day whether moving Profar to left field is a good move, but the facts of that one are pretty simple—if the move is permanent, then it's a terrible use of a player with incredibly more positional value and he should probably be traded instead, but if it's just for this year, than it probably won't hurt. But how can the Rangers have no idea at this point if Profar can play left field?
This problem did not sneak up on the Rangers. The articles about Kinsler that I linked above were all from this spring. Most of March in Rangers camp was surrounded by the uncertainty of how this problem would inevitably be played out. Hell, I wrote about it in February when the possibility of Nelson Cruz getting suspended for his role in the Biogenesis Scandal came out.
The solution of sending Profar to the minors was only temporary, and we all knew that he would be up in the majors at some point, likely to fill in for an injured player, which is exactly what happened. Knowing that second base would be a possibility, the Rangers used Profar there some in the minors this season and had done the same last year. But why did no one think to try him out a few games in the outfield? How is this overlooked? Just a few games, just in case. It wasn't a far-fetched possibility.
This was a problem that could be seen from a mile away, or in this case, three months away. They had the wherewithal to use Profar at second base despite a proven veteran who doesn't want to move blocking Profar's path there, but no one thought it would be a good idea to let him play four or five games in the outfield, just to see how he tracks a fly ball? Profar didn't even play the outfield in little league. His first test is really going to be in Arlington, not Round Rock?
He might be fine. We don't know. The Rangers don't know. But they should. Profar is absolutely one of the 25 most talented players in the Rangers organization and needs to be on the major league roster and in the lineup as often as possible, but to roll the dice in a pennant race is irresponsible. The Rangers have said they think Profar can pick up left field in "7-10 days." They have to hope a misplayed fly ball doesn't cost them a game between now and then.
References and Resources
Jeff Moore is the creator of MLBProspectWatch.com, your one-stop site for all the information you need about minor league prospects. He can be reached via e-mail at mlbprospectwatch AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter at @MLBPW