Part 2 in a season-long series projecting a hypothetical 25-man roster made up solely of prospects from the Texas Rangers' Minor League system.
Jurickson Profar has played on a big stage. He's produced against much older competition. Having not yet played for a full-season affiliate in the Rangers' Minor League system, he managed to make his mark in two cameo Spring Training appearances this March with the big league club. Now the question is whether the Rangers can figure out a way to slow the Profar train down to a sensible pace.
If he'll let them.
Profar made an international name for himself in the 2004 and 2005 Little League World Series, starring on the mound and at shortstop for Curacao, which won its first-ever title in the first of those two years and then lost in the title game in extra innings the next season. Major League organizations had to wait another four years before Profar would turn 16, and when he did the competition to sign him was intense -- though most clubs were interested in him as a pitcher. There were only three parties, reportedly, who preferred Profar as a shortstop: Texas, Baltimore and Profar himself.
Jamey Newberg's hypothetical 25-man roster made up of Rangers prospects
The Rangers got a deal done with Profar on day one of the 2009 international signing period, agreeing to pay him a $1.55 million signing bonus. They had faith in more than just the skills on the field. "We liked Jurickson's ability," says Rangers director of international scouting Mike Daly, who was instrumental in the scouting and signing effort, "but the energy and intelligence he plays the game with set him apart for us."
The Rangers not only decided that Profar was suited to make his pro debut stateside rather than in the Dominican Summer League, where many Latin American teenagers start their careers, but decided to assign him to short-season Class A Spokane when Northwest League play got under way in June. The significance is that most high school draftees (who were a year older than Profar in 2010) are sent to the complex leagues in Arizona and Florida. The Northwest League and its equivalents are primarily populated by college draftees.
Profar was up to the challenge. Competing against a league full of 21- and 22-year-olds, the 17-year-old switch-hitter held his own statistically, hitting .250 for Spokane with 19 doubles, the second-highest total in the league, in 252 at-bats. But aside from the numbers, he wowed league managers and scouts, whose evaluations led Baseball America to name him the circuit's No. 1 prospect at season's end. They raved about his approach at the plate, his range at shortstop, his quick hands, and the plus arm strength that so many other clubs had envisioned on a mound. But every assessment of the young man also included mention of his baseball IQ and his makeup.
"Jurickson loves the game and approaches it with a kid's enthusiasm," says Don Welke, senior special assistant to general manager Jon Daniels and one of the most accomplished talent evaluators in the game. "He's a hard worker from a great family and is intent upon being an impact player in the Major Leagues. He fits the ability and character requisites that we strive to put into the system. The kid's got a real chance to be an exciting player."
And one without any fear. It's something Texas manager Ron Washington noticed when Profar got into two Cactus League games this spring, once trotting in from shortstop to the mound to settle down 30-year-old veteran Yhency Brazoban after the reliever had served up a home run and walked the next batter. What Profar -- who would be a high school senior eligible two months from now to be drafted if he'd grown up in the States -- may lack in terms of off-the-charts tools, he makes up for in confidence, instincts and the absence of any apparent weaknesses.
Currently the youngest player in the South Atlantic League, Profar homered in his first at-bat in each of low Class A Hickory's first two games this season (once from the left side and once from the right) -- he also went deep in his second pro game a year ago -- but making an instant, loud impression is not out of character for the gifted 18-year-old.
"He's young in years," Daly acknowledges, "but even as a kid he played a lot of games in competitive environments, in front of big crowds and on TV. It's not just his unique experience, though. Jurickson has embraced every challenge we've put up in front of him, and it's no surprise to us that he's quickly adjusted to pro ball. He has been all we thought he'd be and more since he signed."
Profar's name has emerged in every significant trade rumor involving Texas over the last six months, and that's not going to change. For one, there's a pretty good 22-year-old shortstop in place in Arlington right now named Elvis Andrus. But it's also a testament to the strides Profar has made competing against much older players, and the makeup that gives scouts confidence that he'll continue to meet the challenges along his path to the big leagues. Profar has quickly made himself a young shortstop coveted by teams all over baseball -- teams that two summers ago didn't view him as a shortstop at all.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.