Profar setting the tone for Netherlands

Profar setting the tone for Netherlands

TOKYO -- So much has changed for Jurickson Profar over the last four years, but one thing hasn't changed a bit.

Profar still believes the Netherlands can win the World Baseball Classic.

"Yes, for sure," he said, after the Netherlands took a big step toward the semifinals with a 14-1 win over Cuba. "We have a good team to do it."

The last time around, Profar was a 20-year-old kid who was ranked by some as the best prospect in baseball. He turned down a chance to play in the first two rounds of the 2013 tournament, but joined up with the Dutch for the semifinal game against the Dominican Republic at AT&T Park.

"He walked into the locker room and said, 'We're going to win because I'm here,'" Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "That's the attitude he takes."

The attitude is great, but health is even greater. Profar didn't play Major League Baseball for two full seasons because of shoulder trouble, finally returning to play 90 games with the Rangers in 2016.

He's healthy now, and it shows.

In a lineup full of Major League stars, Profar has been one of the Netherlands' hottest hitters through the first two rounds of WBC 2017. Three more hits against Cuba gave him a .522 batting average in six games, and six of his 12 hits have gone for extra bases.

"He's proven to the world what kind of player he is," Meulens said.

He's also reminding the Rangers what he is capable of. Without a set position in the Texas lineup, Profar will need to produce in order to play. He'll also need to be able to play multiple positions, so his time in center field in the World Baseball Classic should help. Profar has started all six games in center, and he has been able to work with Netherlands coach Andruw Jones, a Gold Glove outfielder during his playing career.

All that work has given the tournament something of a Spring Training feel for Profar, but only until the games begin.

"It's like every game is a playoff game," he said.

The last two games have been must-win playoff games for the Netherlands, after a disappointing 8-6, 11-inning loss to Japan in the opening game of the second round. Meulens moved Profar to the third spot in the lineup after the Japan game, saying he wanted to take pressure off struggling Xander Bogaerts by moving him up a spot to second.

Profar wasn't hurt by the switch, and the Netherlands lineup responded by scoring 12 runs against Israel and 14 against Cuba. The two wins put the Dutch team into the semifinals next week at Dodger Stadium.

At worst, the Netherlands would have a Thursday tiebreaker game for a chance to go to Los Angeles.

The Dutch were a surprise semifinalist four years ago, when Profar, Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius and Jonathan Schoop were still trying to break into the Major Leagues. Despite Profar's confident proclamation, they lost, 4-1, to the Dominican Republic (with Profar going 0-for-3).

It's different now. The kids have grown into stars. Injuries have held Profar back, but his performance in this tournament suggests he may be ready to shine, too.

"We have great hitters in the lineup," Profar said. "It takes pressure off everyone. I have Coco [Wladimir Balentien] behind me. If I don't do it, Coco will. If he doesn't, Didi will."

They've done it through two rounds. Now they believe they can do it through two more games, all the way to Dodger Stadium and all the way through next Wednesday's championship game.

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Tokyo Dome and Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.