Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Next Great Shortstop...

…is 19 year old Jurickson Profar, of the Texas Rangers organization. Before the 2012 season began, Baseball America released their list of top 100 prospects in the game. Only a handful of players, some of the games most recognizable young players, ranked ahead of Profar. These players include Bryce Harper, the super prospect who grazed Sports Illustrated's cover while a Sophomore in High School, Matt Moore, the next bright young pitcher out of the Tampa Bay Rays farm, Mike Trout, who as a 20 year old is playing like a potential American League MVP, and Yu Darvish, the newest all star Japanese pitching import. Coming in at 7 on Baseball America's list, he is a little more of an unknown than some of those high profile players, but that should soon change.

The legend of Jurickson Profar began in 2004. The site was South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the famous site of the Little League World Series. Born in Willemstad, Curacao, Profar helped lead his country, the representative of the Carribean, to the finals against the representatives of the United States, Thousand Oaks, California of the West region. Profar propelled his team to victory, going 2-3 with 2 RBI and a home run, as Curacao defeated Thousand Oaks 5-2.

Fast forward to July 2, 2009. This marked the beginning of the 2009 international signing period, the period in which baseball clubs are given the green light to sign international prospects to their minor league farm. Profar was not the biggest name on the market. Players like Miguel Sano and Gary Sanchez stole the headlines. Still, he was very highly regarded, and the Rangers agreed to sign  him for $1.55 million. Many compared him to another top shortstop prospect, who the Rangers received from the Braves in a blockbuster trade that sent current New York Yankees first baseman to the Atlanta, Elvis Andrus. However, the two developed into completely different players as their careers progressed.

It is now 2012, and Elvis Andrus, the popular comparison for Profar, is the starting shortstop for the Texas Rangers. So far, Andrus has been a defensive wizard, a man who can steal bases – stealing at least 32 bases every year he has been in the majors – and a good leadoff option, posting a 372 OBP so far this season. Profar profiles as something much more exciting than that, something the Rangers scouting department and coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for. Profar has worked his way up to AA ball, and as mentioned earlier, he earned a #7 overall ranking in Baseball America's preseason top 100 prospects.

The road to super prospect hasn't always been easy for Profar. As a 17 year old, in his first professional season, he managed only 4 home runs and a slash line of 250/323/373 in 299 plate appearances for his low A ball team. Not terrible given he was the youngest player on that team, but certainly nothing close to garnering the top 10 prospect status he is receiving now. However, he worked hard during the winter, and impressed enough scouts with his tools to enter the Baseball America top 100 list prior to the 2011 season, coming in at a respectable 74, especially considering he was only 18 years old at that point. His 2011 season, for the Hickory Crawdads, the Rangers class A affiliate, was a huge success. Profar was the youngest player on that team, but he proved to be the teams best position player, hitting 12 home runs, swiping 23 bases, drawing 65 walks while striking out 63 times, and posting a slash line of 286/390/493 in 516 plate appearances. All of this offense production was fantastic, but besides that, he also proved that he has a future as a shortstop.

So far this year, for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers class AA affiliate, Profar is tearing it up, and once again, he is the youngest player on the team. His numbers are impressive once again, as he has hit 9 home runs, stolen 9 bases, drawn 40 walks, posted a slash line of 292/370/476 in 364 plate appearances, and his defense has been stellar. The biggest jump in the minors is from class A to class AA, and he has not struggled at all. In fact, his worst month so far has been April, and he has improved since then. It's always good to see prospects in AA, especially when they aren't even 20 yet, draw walks on over 10% of their plate appearances, and hit for power around 200 ISO or better.

So, what are the scouts saying about this super prospect? Pretty much everything good you can say about a prospect. He has a very athletic body, and he isn't too big so he will be able to stay at shortstop, despite the fact that he is 6'3". As for his tools, some have said his hitting tool could reach an incredible 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. And he has definitely shown flashes that they could be right, beyond the tool. He is a switch hitter, but his left side swing is lagging a little bit. Still, he's very mechanically sound.

In this video, you can see his swing from the left side. He doesn't have much of a leg kick, so he's able to plant his foot quickly, and turn on the ball. His hands don't move too far back before the swing, which means he isn't wasting any time or effort. You can see the balance he has as he makes contact with the ball. At 0:13, you can see that his body is very straight, and his center of mass is perpendicular to the ground. These mechanics should allow him to repeat his easy swing, and help to generate some bat speed.

Speaking of bat speed, his smooth, easy swing from both sides of the plate should generate plenty of line drive power. While that doesn't necessarily mean 40 home runs, he should be able to reach 15 home runs a year consistently, while generating plenty of doubles, and with his speed, some triples as well. At the shortstop position, that's very good production, and if he can develop an elite hitting tool, he's going to find himself a second home on second base. His power projects to fit the 2 hole perfectly, and with his speed, he should find home plate quite a bit, especially with how friendly Rangers Ballpark has been to hitters. Grades have ranged from 40 to 50 for him, again, very good for the shortstop position.

I've talked a bit about his speed. While he will probably never be a 40 steal man, he should get his fair share of stolen bases, maybe around 15 to 20 a year. Certainly, any team would love a 20-20 player from their shortstop, and he looks like he could be that kind of player. He definitely has enough speed to play his defensive position, and though he isn't a speed burner, he knows how to move well enough that he'll seem faster than he actually is.

His offense should exciting any major league team, but what really puts Jurickson Profar ahead of the rest is his defensive ability. Besides catcher, the most important position in the field is shortstop, and he has plus-plus ability at that position. His instincts in the field have been compared to Derek Jeter's, but unlike Jeter, he has the range and athleticism to get to more balls than most players at that position. Amazing range and instincts often leads to a very good defender at shortstop. Many scouts give him a 60 grade here. But wait, there's more! His arm is special as well. Not the greatest of all time, but he can certainly make all of the throws, and scouts give him a 60 grade for this tool as well. He has a very quick release, and is a very accurate thrower. As he matures a bit, and grows into the position more, we should see a decline in errors, and perhaps several gold gloves in his cabinet by the time he's done, should all go well.

All of this sounds great, but what scouts love the most are not his tools. Scouts love his makeup and his baseball IQ. He is one of the smartest teenagers to play the game, and he knows what he is doing. Scouts rave about his maturity on and off the field, so he's probably not one you're going to read about in the news too often for something negative, and he is a very cool and calm player on the field, so you may see his name pop up as one of the most respected players in the game. Not just that, but he works out hard, and demands that he and his teammates give everything they have in the gym and on the field. He's a guy who wants to be great and he wants to win, but most of all, he's a guy who wants to do what's right for his team and his teammates.

If I were to throw out a major league comparison right now, I would say he looks an awful lot like Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees. Both are middle infielders who are line driver hitters, and play very good defense. Furthermore, both are very calm and cool on the field, and are very smart baseball players. However, Profar plays the more valuable middle infield position, and he hits from both sides of the plate. A switch hitting Robinson Cano who plays shortstop? Sign me up. Another popular comparison is Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians. In many ways, this is a better comparison because Cabrera is also a switch hitting shortstop who plays good defense. Cabrera has 20+ home run power, can steal 15 or more bases, and hits in the 280-300 range. Either comparison works, and if he becomes a player of their caliber, he will be one of the top shortstops in the league for a long time. Look for his name to appear on a lot of all-star rosters, his talent is off the charts.

Disagree with anything? Leave a comment, I love discussing prospects, and would love to discuss Jurickson Profar more. Thank you for reading.

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