SPECTACULAR BEGINNING

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Jurickson Profar made his Major League debut Sunday in Cleveland, and it was spectacular. He became the first Ranger player ever to hit a home run in his first Major League at bat when he led off the third inning with a long one, at least 10-12 rows beyond the fence. That scored the first run of the game and opened the gates to a four run inning. In his second at bat, he doubled and finished the day 2-4 with a run scored and RBI. Texas won 8-3.

After the game, Fox Sports’ John Rhadigan gave Ranger players an assist by interviewing Profar to set him up for the pie in the face treatment. The pie in the face these days is really a towell smeared with shaving cream, but in Profar’s case, it was the crowning event in a really good day.

Manager Ron Washington’s original lineup Sunday had Ian Kinsler at second base. However in pre-game workouts, Kinsler reported tightness in his lower back and was scratched. That opened the door for Profar’s debut, and the youngster made the most of it. At 19 years, 195 days, he became the second youngest player to hit a home run in Major League history.

Profar was added to the active roster a day earlier when Major League rosters expanded. There had been heavy media speculation in the past couple of weeks that Profar would be called up perhaps even before September 1. A weekend earlier, Michael Young took three days of paternity leave as the Rangers faced Minnesota at home. There was perhaps even disappointment then among many fans that Luis Hernandez was called up from AAA Round Rock instead of Profar to take Young’s place on the roster.

Hernandez appeared in two of three games during his stay, but interestingly, he was designated for assignment afterward. That immediately removed him from the Rangers’40-man roster, neatly creating room for Profar to be added less than a week later.

When the season began, most rankings of minor league prospects had Washington’s Bryce Harper and Los Angeles’ Mike Trout as the top two or three prospects in all of baseball. Once they graduated to the Majors, Profar was prominent among the top minor prospects, with more than one respectable rating service having him squarely as the best.

Profar is in his third year of professional baseball. This summer, he hit .281 with 14 home runs and 82 RBIs at AA Frisco, where he also stole 16 bases in 20 attempts. He jumped over the high A minor league level to play at Frisco, after toiling in 2011 for low A Hickory. Indeed he reached the Major Leagues at warp speed having played just 398 minor league games. At Frisco, he was the youngest player in the Texas League, and now he is the youngest player in the Major Leagues.

If Profar blossoms into the player experts expect him to be, he presents a dlightful dilemma for the Rangers, who are set with one of the best keystone combinations in baseball – Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Kinsler at second base. Kinsler is probably not going anywhere. He is a fan favorite, indeed one fo the bright faces of the franchise. Most of all, he signed a new long term contract extension earlier this year. There is speculation that he could move to the outfield to create an opening.

Andrus is more problematical. He will be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. There are many that believe he will be with another team thereafter, if not sooner. He certainly helped fuel the speculation when he switched his agency to Scott Boras. Boras’s clients rarely re-sign with the team that developed them once they become free agents. (See Prince Fielder, see Barry Zito, see Mark Teixeira, etc., etc.)

Perhaps more realistically though, there is a question for the Rangers if keeping Andrus is the best deployment of their salary capacity. This past winter, free agent shortstop Jose Reyes signed a long term contract with the Marlins that averages more than $15 million per year in salary. Andrus would seemingly command a comparable contract. Do the Rangers really want to commit that much payroll to shortstop, when they have Profar in the fold? Profar will be playing for far less than $15 million per year, such that by going with Profar and letting Andrus walk, the Rangers will have a sizeable chunk of payroll capacity to utilize for other team needs.

Still, Andrus is such a good shortstop that it will be a sad day in Ranger history when he departs, if he does.

As for Profar’s immediate future with the Rangers, there are many unknowns. Most clubs shorten their pitching staffs for the playoffs and often look for a player with speed for their bench. Profar could be a candidate for the post season roster. However, Ranger fans should not expect a regular routine of work.

It has been suggested that he could easily start three games a week, one at short and two at second base, with Kinsler and Andrus getting a complete day off and Kinsler DHing once a week. Sounds good on paper, but it’s a pipe dream. The Rangers are trying to win a pennant, and while many of us believe they will, the road to October baseball may not be an easy one. Oakland has won 10 games in a row and closed the gap to three games, despite the Rangers winning their last three series. In Ron Washington’s view, and this is the view Ranger fans should share, he wants to and will be playing the best lineup he can put on the field to win every game he can. That most likely does not include regular playing time for a talented 19 year-old.

DAVID MURPHY UPDATE: David Murphy woke up Monday morning ranked third in the American League in batting average at .322. He has put on a serious offensive surge since the All-Star break. In his last 17 games alone, he is hitting .458 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. His batting average has been high enough to rank among the top 10 hitters in the league for weeks now, but he did not have enough plate appearances to qualify. On Sunday in Cleveland, he came to to bat five times to give him just enough – 412 appearances. He also ranks fourth in the league in on-base percentage. For much of the year, Murphy has been overshadowed by Josh Hamilton with his 37 home runs and league leading 113 RBIs and Adrian Beltre, who managed a three home run game and a cycle two days apart; but Murphy has quietly become an important player in the Rangers’ offense.

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