EVERETT, Wash.—Shortstop Jurickson Profar is the youngest player on the Spokane Indians, but you wouldn't know it without a roster.
That's because Profar's advanced skills and maturity go well beyond his years. "He's exceptional talent-wise, but his makeup, as far as really understanding the game and how to play the game, is off-the-charts for a 17-year-old," Spokane manager Tim Hulett said.
Profar just turned 17 in February. If he were born in the United States, he would be going into his senior year of high school and would be spending this summer on the showcase circuit in preparation for the upcoming draft.
The Rangers signed Profar as a 16-year-old last year out of Curacao, a small island off the coast of Venezuela. Curacao is known among baseball fans as being the birthplace of Andruw Jones, the player Profar idolized growing up. Since joining the Rangers organization, however, Profar has taken a liking to their big league shortstop—a player he could one day replace—Elvis Andrus.
"He's young, just like me and he does everything right," Profar said.
This summer in Spokane is Profar's first exposure to professional baseball. But it's not Profar's first time playing in front of large crowds. In 2005, Profar was on Curacao's Little League team that made it to the final game of the Little League World Series.
Profar said his transition to professional baseball and to the United States have been made easier by two things. One is that he already speaks English. It's actually just one of four languages Profar speaks fluently. He also speaks Dutch, Papiamento (a Portugese-based creole) and Spanish. The second thing is that Spokane's players live with host families, which Profar said has made adjusting to the new culture go more smoothly and allows him to focus solely on baseball.
No Bad Hops
Profar has terrific instincts, quick and soft hands and a strong arm. In fact, most teams that scouted him in Curacao preferred him on the mound, where he was up to 93 mph. But Profar wanted to play shortstop.
"Shortstop you play everyday," Profar said. "I'm a player and I want to play everyday. I don't like to sit down like a pitcher and pitch one day and then after four days pitch again. I want to play everyday."
Like Andrus, Profar is a treat to watch defensively.
"He's by far the best shortstop I've had here," said Hulett, who is in his fourth year managing Spokane. "His ability to go after balls and read hops—he's had some tough hops—and he's been able to come up with those plays, and of course he makes the spectacular play. He went in the hole, deep in the grass, the other night and one-hopped the ball to first in the 15th inning against the leadoff hitter. It wasn't just a great play, but, for the time of the game, it was a huge play. Then, at our place, he went up the middle with the bases loaded, game on the line, and dove for a ground ball and took it himself to turn a double play."
Profar said his defensive prowess comes from playing baseball with his younger brother growing up and taking groundballs every day. He said he is always trying to just relax and stay in the flow of the game.
"I just trust my hands and slow the game down," Profar said. "Just slow the game down. Nobody can run faster than the ball, so just control myself and slow everything down. Watch the ball and throw the ball."
Hulett has been around the game a long time, having spent 12 years in the big leagues before beginning his coaching career. He said Profar is a very conventional shortstop.
"He's got his own little style and his own little flair," Hulett said. "He makes the routine play very routine, but he also has Latin flair when he needs to go get a ball and do something spectacular, he can also do that. I like that."
Profar's defense is ahead of his offense at this point, but that's not to downplay his offense. He's certainly holding his own, especially considering his age and the fact that he's a switch-hitter. Over his first 110 professional at-bats, Profar was hitting .282/.319/.391 with nine doubles and one home run.
"He has been very surprising, offensively, for a 17-year-old that switch-hits," Hulett said. "He's really strong lefthanded. So, if you're not careful, he can hit it out on you, or hit a double. But he has a good plan up there lefthanded. He's not quite as good righthanded, but still really competes well, so he's been very impressive."
Profar currently stands 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds. While he doesn't project to get a lot bigger, he figures to add some strength to his wiry frame, and some of his doubles will begin to turn into home runs. Even with his quick hands and smooth actions at shortstop and his compact, line-drive swing from both sides of the plate, the thing that stands out most about Profar is his love for the game.
"That's the way to play the game," Hulett said. "He's very infectious with the way he plays the game. He's kind of a quiet leader on the team. When you're 17, it's hard to lead a team, but the guys all get along with him and he gets along with them. He's just a tremendous all-around kid."
It's easy to smile after making a highlight-reel play up the middle or go 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base, but Profar has a happy-go-lucky attitude no matter the circumstances. Baseball is obviously fun for Profar and he has the mental approach necessary for a game where players fail more than they succeed.
"He's always smiling," Indians third baseman Mike Olt said. "If you're ever in a bad mood, all you have to do is look at him or joke around with him and it'll cheer you up."