As the Texas Rangers get ready to open the 2014 season, hopes are running high. Baseball observers are almost unanimously positive about a busy offseason that saw the Rangers bolster their weary offense with two top flight hitters. While the production of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will certainly bear watching, perhaps the brightest spotlight will shine on Jurickson Profar.
Being a number one rated prospect carries plenty of expectations, but Profar isn’t just another super talented phenom on the fast track to the majors. Profar also has to replace perhaps the best player to ever man second for the Rangers, Ian Kinsler. All Kinsler did in his time with the Rangers was anchor the most successful run in team history while stamping his name all over the Texas record book. No pressure.
Making matters worse, Kinsler now plays for one of the teams expected to be competing with the Rangers for a trip to the World Series, the Detroit Tigers. Detroit and Texas may only play each other seven times this year, but if things go as many predict, Ranger fans will be keeping close tabs on Detroit. The summer heat may not be the only heat GM Jon Daniels feels this year if Kinsler manages to recapture his All Star form for the Tigers
It will take longer than just this season to truly judge the wisdom of the move, but with expectations high for both teams, a good start for Profar will go a long way toward proving Daniels right. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 21-year-old who’s only played three full seasons of pro ball. That also speaks highly of the potential he possesses and the confidence the Rangers have in Profar.
Daniels has been in this situation before. The first major move Daniels made after taking over as general manager was trading Alphonso Soriano to make way for Kinsler. Kinsler repaid him with eight largely great seasons. It was the first of several cagey moves from Daniels, who seems to possess a unique ability to gauge the right time to let go of a player. From Soriano to CJ Wilson and Josh Hamilton, Daniels has an excellent track record when it comes to moving on.
The Rangers won’t need Profar to duplicate Kinsler at his best in order to be successful this season. In fact, a stat line comparable to Kinsler’s 2013 might be enough given the new firepower Texas has this year. Despite his gaudy numbers, Kinsler was far from a perfect player. He was streaky, his defense at times was questionable and we was prone to injury. If Profar can stay healthy and be plus in the field, Daniels and the Ranger front office can breathe a little easier.
I know that trading Ian Kinsler wasn’t a hugely popular move with Ranger fans, and for good reason. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a fan favorite, especially one with a resume like Kinsler’s; and Profar didn’t exactly light up the majors in his extended tryout last year.
At first, I was angry at the move myself. I felt it was a horrible trade, and I’m still not completely on board with Prince Fielder (I’ll save that for another post). However, the more I think about it, I ultimately think that Daniels has made the right move.
It was never going to be easy to replace Kinsler, but at least now Profar doesn’t have to be a vital cog in order for Texas to succeed. By making the move now he can transition into his role while guys like Fielder, Choo, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus carry the load. Not every five-star prospect gets to slide into a starting role on a team this loaded. If all goes well, he’ll also get the bonus of postseason experience and should be cemented into his role by the time Daniels has to make a similar call on some of the older players, like Beltre.
On a less positive note, if Profar fails to live up to his potential, it is far better for the team to find out now. The Rangers have enough firepower to compensate if Profar fails to live up to his offensive potential. Texas also has another highly valued prospect, Rougned Odor, percolating in the minors. It’s important that the club knows what they have in Profar now, so they know if Odor needs to learn a new position, if he becomes trade bait, of if he is the real future at second.
The fact is, with two highly prized second base prospects needing a place to play, somebody had to go. Despite all that Ian Kinsler did in red and blue, the facts are clear. At 31 and with an extensive injury history, Kinsler’s best years are numbered, if not already behind him. His defense had become questionable and he has always been a little streaky. His down year in 2013 contributed to another later summer collapse and while the Tigers are betting that he still has gas left in the tank, the Rangers clearly felt that his slide was a sign of things to come.
It will be weird seeing Kinsler in a different uniform. It will hurt if he starts raking again. Still, the best GMs have to keep their eyes on the future, and for Jurickson Profar, the future begins March 31.