Jurickson Profar knew he’d get another shot at the big leagues. He just didn’t know that opportunity would come with Texas.
“Maybe I have to go to another team,” said Profar a month ago when he was stuck in Triple-A. “I have no problem with that. I know I’m going to be in the big leagues pretty soon.”
Not that long ago, Profar was considered the best prospect in all of baseball. He played sparingly in his first two seasons but was headed for a full-time role in 2014 after the team traded second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit. Instead, he spent the next two seasons battling shoulder injuries and lost his starting job to Rougned Odor. Finally healthy, Profar began the 2016 campaign in the minor leagues. He got off to a hot start with Triple-A Round Rock (.284, 5 HR, 26 RBI in 41 games) but there was no opening in Texas. One punch changed everything.
After Odor was suspended seven games for slugging Jose Bautista in the face, Profar was called up to fill in at second base. Since then he’s hit .390 with two homers and three RBI. He logged two hits batting out of the leadoff spot Sunday while guiding Texas to a 3-2 victory over the Mariners. When the weekend started, these teams were tied for first in the AL West. The Rangers gave themselves some breathing room by sweeping the three-game set.
But forget about the standings for a second. You probably noticed that Odor’s suspension ended on Saturday. So what the heck is Profar still doing here?
Well, sometimes you just have to ride the wave. With Profar raking, manager Jeff Banister decided he couldn’t take him out of the lineup, even with Odor back at second base. Profar mostly played shortstop in the minor leagues but his path to playing time is blocked by Elvis Andrus.
So who’s the odd man out? So far it’s been Prince Fielder. Profar has served as the DH the last two games with Fielder watching from the dugout. It takes courage for a manager to bench a six-time All-Star but Fielder hasn’t made a very compelling case for himself. He’s hitting just .187 with three homers through his first 53 games. Fielder’s prolonged slump comes on the heels of a successful 2015 campaign that included 23 HR, 98 RBI and a terrific .305 batting average.
Profar’s production could tail off at any point but if it doesn’t, don’t be surprised if Fielder has to settle for a spot on the Rangers’ bench. In theory, it’s an easy decision. Profar is playing better, so he deserves to play. But baseball isn’t ruled by logic—it’s ruled by dollar signs. Fielder is due to make $24 million this season. In the past, teams have been overly loyal to players who earn huge salaries because benching someone who makes that much money is an admission of defeat.
But lately, managers have been a little more apt to put their best team on the field, regardless of salary. In Philadelphia, Tommy Joseph has been starting at first base over Ryan Howard, who makes $25 million a year. We saw a similar scenario unfold in Boston earlier this year when Travis Shaw ($515,000 salary in 2016) overtook Pablo Sandoval ($17 million) for the starting job at third base. The Red Sox and Rangers are both in the top-eight in payroll and can afford to have an expensive bench player. That’s not true of every team.
There’s another way to approach this. The Rangers would be wise to use their surplus of middle infielders to address other needs like the bullpen, which has been one of the worst in baseball this year (5.07 ERA). Profar’s trade value is increasing with every hit. If the Rangers make Profar available, I’m sure there would be plenty of interest.
Right now, the Rangers look like the team to beat in the American League. Nomar Mazara is running away with the American League Rookie of the Year Award and Yu Darvish hasn’t missed a beat since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Even Ian Desmond has turned things around after a sluggish start. The Astros got most of the preseason hype but does anyone remember who won the AL West last year? Don’t be surprised if the Rangers take home another AL West crown in 2016.
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Bullpen Shakeup in Houston
As the Astros have discovered, trial and error might not be the best way to approach the ninth inning. The Astros gave up too much to get him (top prospect Vincent Velasquez and former No. 1 pick Mark Appel were part of Philadelphia’s haul) but Giles certainly had the appearance of a shutdown closer when he arrived in Houston this past offseason. All it took was a rocky spring training (6.75 ERA in nine appearances) for Giles to fall behind Gregerson, who opened 2016 as the Astros’ ninth-inning stalwart. Giles fell even further into the depths of mediocrity with a nightmare opening month (9.00 ERA), forcing manager A.J. Hinch to move him into a lower leverage role.
Meanwhile, Gregerson made us quickly remember why the Astros worked so hard to acquire Giles this offseason. The right-hander has been a reliable reliever everywhere he’s gone (this is his third major league stop), but his underwhelming fastball (89.3 mph average) makes him a strange choice to close games. Gregerson was passable in 2015 with a 3.10 ERA but this year he leads the league with five blown saves including one Saturday against Oakland. Hinch stopped short of removing his closer tag but said he would “ease off” Gregerson for the time being.
Another save opportunity presented itself Sunday against Oakland. This time instead of leaning on Gregerson or Giles, Hinch went with right-hander Will Harris. The veteran pitched a clean ninth inning for his first save of 2016. Harris doesn’t have much closing experience—Sunday was only his third career save—but his 0.34 ERA across 26 2/3 innings this year proves he can hold his own. A closer by committee isn’t out of the question but if Hinch wants to install his best reliever right now, Harris is the easy choice.
The A’s lost Sunday but at least they got a solid start out of Sonny Gray. The right-hander scattered five hits and one run over five innings of work. Gray was actually scheduled to make a minor league rehab start Sunday but the A’s needed him to pitch in place of Rich Hill, who is nursing a sore groin. The A’s were conservative with his pitch count, limiting Gray to only 69 pitches.
Gray was placed on the disabled list last month with a strained trapezius but I’m guessing the 15-day break had more to do with clearing his head. The 26-year-old got off to a brutal start this year, losing five of his first nine starts with a disappointing 6.19 ERA. Maybe Gray was feeling a little fatigue after throwing 427 innings over his previous two seasons. Either way, Gray appears to be healthy now and should have a longer leash next time out against Cincinnati.
Quick Hits: Jake Arrieta took his first loss in 25 starts Sunday against Arizona. It wasn’t all bad, though. He logged 12 strikeouts over five innings and doubled in his only at-bat … Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey went toe-to-toe in a classic pitcher’s duel Sunday at Marlins Park. Fernandez earned his eighth straight win by allowing just four hits over seven shutout frames. He also contributed a season-high 14 strikeouts. Harvey fell to 4-8 despite pitching one of his best games of the year (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 Ks) … A sore hip has kept Yoenis Cespedes out of the starting lineup the last two days. He did appear as a pinch-hitter Sunday, flying out in his only at-bat … Corey Seager is building a strong resume for National League Rookie of the Year. The 22-year-old has now gone deep five times in his last three games including twice Sunday against Atlanta. He leads the Dodgers with 14 HR and 35 RBI this year … Carl Crawford was designated for assignment on Sunday. The Dodgers still owe him $35 million over the next two seasons … Evan Longoria is heating up. He’s homered in four straight games including twice Sunday against Minnesota. Teammate Logan Morrison also left the yard twice in Sunday’s 7-5 win at Target Field … Justin Verlander turned in another strong outing Sunday against the White Sox (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 8 Ks, 1 BB). He’s won three of his last four starts with a 2.73 ERA. Francisco Rodriguez preserved the victory for his 17th straight save as the Tigers moved back to .500 … Jose Quintana’s losing streak reached five games Sunday against Detroit. Despite his recent slump, Quintana still owns the American League’s seventh-lowest ERA at 2.58 … James Shields will make his White Sox debut Wednesday against the Nationals. The White Sox acquired him from the Padres Saturday in a deal that sent Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr. to San Diego … Marco Estrada took a no-hitter into the eighth inning Sunday against the Red Sox. Chris Young broke it up with a solo shot over the Green Monster … Eduardo Rodriguez put together a strange stat line Sunday against Toronto. He only allowed four hits in 5 2/3 innings, but all four were home runs. Jose Bautista, Darwin Barney, Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin all took him deep … Josh Donaldson returned to the Blue Jays’ lineup Sunday after sitting out with a jammed thumb on Saturday. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout … Albert Pujols suffered a minor ankle injury in Sunday’s win over the Pirates and is day-to-day. Huston Street closed out the game for his first save since April 23. Street missed most of May with a strained oblique … Andrelton Simmons is ready to begin a rehab assignment. He tore a ligament in his left thumb last month ... Francisco Cervelli wasn’t in the Pirates’ lineup on Sunday. He hasn’t played since taking a pitch off his right foot Thursday against the Marlins … Jhonny Peralta (thumb surgery) completed his rehab assignment with High-A Palm Beach on Sunday. He’s expected to come off the disabled list Tuesday against the Reds … Brian McCann returned to the starting lineup Sunday after missing time with a hyperextended elbow. He went 0-for-3 with a walk … Anthony DeSclafani is set to make his season debut Friday against the Athletics. He missed the first two months with an oblique injury … Raisel Iglesias will move to the bullpen when he’s activated from the disabled list later this month. He’s been out with a right shoulder impingement.