Friday, January 10, 2014
Spring training preview: Second base
By Richard Durrett
Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.
Jurickson Profar should benefit from having position stability after moving all over the field last year.
Today's position: Second base
Few positions on the club have changed more heading into 2014 than second base. It's been Ian Kinsler's spot for the past eight seasons, but now he's in Detroit with the Tigers after the trade to bring Prince Fielder to Arlington.
SPRING TRAINING PREVIEW
Richard Durrett looks at how the Rangers stack up, position by position, going into spring training.
Kinsler had a .273 career batting average in Texas, and his 162-game average was 24 homers and 82 RBIs. Kinsler batted all over the lineup but was primarily a leadoff hitter in his final seasons in Texas. He wasn't your traditional leadoff hitter. He had more power than most No. 1 batters and, in his last couple of years, his on-base percentage wasn't as high as you'd expect for a leadoff guy.
Kinsler was a staple at second base and helped form a solid double-play duo with Elvis Andrus. Both players learned each other's tendencies, and it helped bail out pitchers many times. Last season, Kinsler didn't have the kind of season he wanted on the bases and since the trade has talked about how he'd like to increase his stolen bases in 2014 in Detroit.
So Kinsler's departure changes a bunch of things. The Rangers needed a new leadoff hitter and acquired one in Shin-Soo Choo. We'll talk more about him in this series when we get to the outfield. But the trade also opened things up for Jurickson Profar. And that's where second base changes dramatically in 2014.
Profar, who turns 21 in February, was ESPN.com's top prospect in all of baseball going into last season, as ranked here by Keith Law (insider). Profar started 2013 in the minors as Kinsler wanted to play at second base and the Rangers decided not to push Profar too soon. But after hitting well in the minors, Profar was brought up by the Rangers and ended up playing most of the season with the big league club. He hit .234 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 324 plate appearances in 85 games.
Profar's numbers didn't stack up after performing so well the previous September. But he was moving around to various positions as manager Ron Washington tried to find a way to get him in the lineup. Several scouts -- some outside the organization -- believe that Profar's overall game should improve now that he has one position and knows he'll be playing every day.
OUTLOOK: Profar has played middle infield in the minors, so he's comfortable at that position. Even though he didn't play as well as he wanted in 2013, he got to fully experience what a major league season is like and what is needed to get through it. That should help him in 2014.
The bottom line is that if Profar is truly one of the top prospects in the game, it's time for the Rangers to find out if he's ready to play every day. The trade of Kinsler gives them that opportunity, and at the same time got them the big left-handed bat they needed. Profar could end up batting at or near the bottom of the order, which could also reduce the pressure on him and allow him to grow a bit.
He'll need to work with Andrus and begin to establish a relationship in the middle infield. That takes time, but the two played together some in 2013 and you can bet they'll utilize spring training getting used to each other.
There's no question Profar must perform better in 2014. Now he'll get the chance to prove he can, knowing what position he's going to play without moving around a bunch. It should be very interesting to watch.