Rangers' Profar Proves Wise, And Talented, Beyond Years
HICKORY, N.C.—If nothing else, Jurickson Profar is a quick study.
Take his first at-bat at this year's Futures Game in Phoenix as a shining example. Profar was set to enter the contest in the sixth inning as a pinch-hitter for the World squad when the U.S. team summoned righthander Kyle Gibson to face him. The Twins' top pitching prospect, Gibson was five years Profar's senior and played this season at Triple-A Rochester.
Profar, the Futures Game's youngest participant at age 18, could have been cowed by the situation—his first at-bat in a big league stadium against a pitcher he had never seen and who was one step from the majors. But Profar had at least one advantage, as he was afforded the chance of watching Gibson's warmup tosses from the on-deck circle, and he made use of it.
"I saw him during his warmups throwing some sinkers," Profar said. "So I was ready for it. I went up there looking for my pitch to hit, a line drive up the middle."
The switch-hitting shortstop didn't waste any time. He stepped in lefthanded against Gibson and drilled the first pitch he saw, a 91 mph fastball, into the right-center field gap for an RBI triple.
What's more, that lefthanded stroke Profar put on display against Gibson wasn't really part of his arsenal until two years ago. Profar, a natural righthanded-hitter, had tried swinging lefthanded before he signed with the Rangers in the summer of 2009, but he had never used his lefty swing in games until after he turned pro.
Fast forward two years, and Profar's .286/.390/.493 stat line with Hickory included a higher average as a lefthanded hitter (.294) than as a righthander (.270). Profar was also leading the Crawdads in doubles (37) and ranked third in the South Atlantic League with eight triples. And Profar was doing this as the SAL's youngest player.
Many of his peers spent the summer deciding whether to turn pro or go to college. Profar was busy getting hits off Triple-A pitchers on national television.
Profar had performed on big stages before. As both a pitcher and hitter, he led his Curacao squad to the Little League World Series championship in 2004.
"You watch his Little League World Series games, his swing's pretty much the same," Hickory hitting coach Jason Hart said.
Hart first watched Profar hit in instructional league last year. Seeing Profar's lean 6-foot, 170-pound frame, Hart thought him to be a contact-oriented, up-the-middle type hitter. But appearances can be deceiving, as Profar's bat has packed some serious punch, having hit 12 home runs in addition to the healthy doses of doubles and triples.
"His power numbers have definitely surprised me," Hart said. "He creates as much torque as he possibly can with that body of his and maximizes his power."
Profar homered on Opening Day back in April and again the next day. Proving that he's not immune to the pitfalls of being a young player, Profar then went through a period where he tried too much to muscle up for home runs. By the end of April, he was hitting just .235.
Going through a maturation process is what being in the minor leagues is about, and here was a lesson to learn.
"Watching him mature all season," Hart said, "from trying to become that home run hitter and then learning how to use the barrel of the bat and hit the ball where it's pitched, he's understanding that, 'Hey, I'll take my hits. The home runs will come back.' "
Profar's swings haven't needed many mechanical corrections. Outside of making sure he stays under control and doesn't let his leg kick get too big, the club's attitude has been one of "if it's not broken, don't fix it."
Sally League pitchers can attest to how little fixing Profar needs, as he's been one of the circuit's toughest outs. The teenager takes great pride in making pitchers work, and Hart speaks of how Profar has as many 8-10 pitch at-bats as anybody.
"You see a lot of young guys just gash and not command the zone, but he handles that really well," Hickory manager Bill Richardson said. "I think it's the will not to strike out. When you see his two-strike approach, he's digging in. Sometimes it's to a fault, but that's ok. I'd rather have that mentality."
The proof is plain to see. After 518 plate appearances, Profar ranked seventh in the league with 65 walks and had struck out just 63 times.
Slow It Down
Even on nights he doesn't have it at the plate, Profar has other means of helping his team.
On an August night in which he went 0-for-4 against Lexington, Profar still showed off his smooth defense, most notably when the Legends' Telvin Nash smashed a ball to Profar's left that took a wicked hop just before reaching him. No matter. Profar pinned the ball against his body and flipped it to second base. Just another 6-4 fielder's choice in the scorebook.
"When he doesn't have good plate appearances," Richardson said, "and then I'll see a backhand in the hole, that means that he can separate offense and defense at an 18-year-old age."
Richardson raves about Profar's instincts as a defender. The young shortstop has a knack for positioning that belies his age, getting good jumps on balls and being in the right places at the right times. The word "maturity" comes up again.
"Slow the game down," Profar said. "Nobody can run faster than the ball. I just take my time and make the plays."
Speaking about when Profar came back to Hickory from the Futures Game, Richardson jokes about how he thought they'd have to "expand the door to get him through there." But Profar was having none of that.
"He came to work and wanted to play that next day," Richardson said. "Didn't ask for a day off. 'That was a nice little treat. Now I'm ready to go back to work.' "
Two days after tripling against Gibson, Profar returned to Hickory's lineup against West Virginia on July 12 and homered to lead off the game. He singled and stole second base an inning later. Back to work.