Monday night wasn't a particularly good night for the Texas Rangers, who fell to the Oakland Athletics 9-2, nor for converted reliever Josh Lindblom, who made his first major league start in Arlington and was resoundingly thwacked (7 hits including a home run and 2 walks over 4.2 innings, allowing four earned runs before giving way to the shaky underbelly of the Rangers bullpen). Really, it wasn't even that great an evening for Jurickson Profar, the near-consensus top prospect in baseball coming into 2013. It was in some ways, however, a productive one.
To really talk about Jurickson Profar, first we have to talk about Ron Washington. Washington is concerned first and foremost with the Texas major league roster, not with prospects, and that's how it should be. He's also been informed that Profar is not up "for good" with the big club, or at least that's not the plan. As MLB.com's TR Sullivan and Christian Corona reported:
"I'm going to try and get them equal playing time," Washington said. "This is [Leury] Garcia's time to get at-bats as a utility guy, while Profar is coming up as a top prospect. He's going to get at-bats. But I'm also going to try and get at-bats for Leury. He needs to see pitching because once Kinsler gets back, Leury is going to be the one still here."
Far be it from me to quibble over the definition of "utility guy," but by most recognized understandings they're not guys you go out of the way to give consistent at-bats above and beyond late-inning defensive work, pinch-hitting and running duties, and the occasional spot start to rest a guy. However, Garcia is one of Washington's main 25 guys right now, and the current location of his locker aside, Profar isn't; Washington makes the difference he sees between the two of them clear right there in the quote. So he's going to give Garcia just as much playing time as Profar, perhaps even more, because when everyone's healthy, Garcia's the guy he wants ready and confident. And there's a certain amount of logic to that. From where I'm sitting, I don't think it's the right decision to be making at all -- I think Profar should be out there every day at second base until Kinsler's back in the lineup -- but it's a rational, defensible choice.
The problem with it, in my view, is that there's a day coming -- and it's coming soon - when the Rangers are going to have to decide exactly who they think Jurickson Profar is (or, more accurately, share that decision with the rest of the baseball world). The Rangers locked up the guy playing Profar's natural position of shortstop, Elvis Andrus, for the next forever this spring, and honestly right now I think if both guys are on the same squad you keep Andrus at shortstop anyway because he's an established top-three shortstop in baseball, even though his bat is not quite on the level of Tulowitzki's and Reyes'. Meanwhile current second baseman Ian Kinsler is not only a fan favorite, he's signed long term as well -- even if the team declines its final option year on him, he'll be a Ranger through 2017 unless he's traded. And general manager Jon Daniels has refused any and all trade offers for the elite prospect, including the guy in Atlanta right now leading all of Major League Baseball in home runs.
Assuming a trade remains off the table and barring something crazy like Profar learning how to play center field, the only real recourse the Rangers have given the personnel to whom they've committed contract years is to bid David Murphy farewell after this season and move Kinsler to left (or ask the same of Mitch Moreland and move Kinsler to first), then slot in Profar at second base. The fact that Profar isn't playing second base in the minors would indicate both that the Rangers are still keeping their options open with him in case they do get a deal they can't refuse (moving him off of short would diminish his trade value) and that they think that he's skilled enough that shifting him over to second would require trivial adjustments to how he plays his game in the field. Now that he's actually up, however, it would seem prudent to give Profar as much of an opportunity as possible to get used to second base with Andrus as his double-play partner, regardless of how long the team plans for him to stay up.
That's not the case so far, however. Washington is being permitted to treat this like a cup of coffee for the Rangers' top prospect, a learning experience, and not a situation where he can play his way onto the team. That makes a certain amount of sense considering there's nowhere to put him on a permanent basis at the moment. But while Profar didn't get his first hit of the year Monday night in Arlington, he was productive in the way that managers like Ron Washington love: He drove in the only two Rangers runs of the evening with productive outs, first on a groundout in his first plate appearance of the night, then again on a sacrifice fly on the second. That's the sort of thing that endears players to old-school managers like Washington. If Profar wants increased playing time both now and perhaps later in the season -- let's face it, Ian Kinsler is on the wrong side of 30, and second base isn't getting any less rough on the body -- those two outs might have been more useful than a decent night at the plate that didn't plate any baserunners, as bizarre as that concept might sound to some.
That said, Washington probably isn't going to deviate too much from his stated plan of giving Garcia ample playing time, and Jurickson Profar is probably destined to return to Round Rock as soon as Kinsler's ready to go. But one of these times when he comes up, it'll have to be for good. And then the Rangers will have some interesting choices to make.