For All the Broken People in the World – #5 in a 5-Part Series

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There is a man on the Rangers roster for all the broken people of the world. He is someone for all of those who have come so close, only to be fortune’s fool. He is a Phenom for whom the siren’s call of broken promise came calling, and who has refused to answer. He has refused to be another what-might-have-been. And for that, he’s my choice for the future heart of the Rangers clubhouse.

He is the once and future king.

He is Jurickson Profar.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s how he arrived:

 

That’s right. First major league at bat. 19 years old. Home run.

As Tom Grieve said, as teammates pummeled the teenager after his auspicious beginning:

“And if he withstands this gauntlet, he’ll be able to go back out onto the field.”

The future was limitless. It had arrived and touched all four bases. It was a switch-hitting, power-hitting middle infielder. And then, like the lightning of his bat, he was gone.

If only we knew then how much further beyond a dugout full of enthusiastic teammates that gauntlet ran, there would have been no laughter or cheering.

Every night before bed, I try to take 100 swings and shoot 30 minutes of hoops. I do both because I once thought I’d never do either. I do it because of two back surgeries and a physique I’m trying to pull back into my 20s from 35. I do it, in part, because of stories like Jurickson Profar’s. I do it because my body does all it can to keep me from it.

But I do not do it like I did before that first surgery, at 17, nor the latter one, at 35. I do it as a man many years my elder. That is what my body offers, and I take it.

Thankfully, Jurickson Profar has seen what his body offers and has decided to double down on what his mind might overcome despite it all.

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Twice Jurickson Profar’s right shoulder – once the headwaters of a river storm of cannon throws – has betrayed him. The most recent time, in 2015, he underwent surgery for a torn labrum – as serious a shoulder injury as a professional athlete can sustain. The same strained area had cost him the 2014 season, a season that should have been a Rookie of the Year campaign. Instead, two years of rehab, one stacked atop the other, brought to mind thoughts of all the players that might have been, if only not for injury’s fickle hand. Herb Score. Dickie Thon. Joe Charboneau. Mark Fidrych. Clint Hurdle. Rocco Baldelli.

Jurickson Profar was in line to join that Red Cross-ed line of might-have-been.

Except he wouldn’t have it. And he has emerged, this spring, shoulder steady, skills still intact. Potential still somewhat limitless thanks to the blessings of youth. Jurickson Profar has undergone a career’s worth of trials and tribulations and is only 23.

The last guy I can think of who had THIS much shoulder trouble and tried to come back was Scott Rolen. He had admittedly mixed results – he was a cornerstone veteran in St. Louis after being the next “Next Mike Schmidt” in Philly (and coming as close as any third sacker has. But his power and bat speed inside almost never recovered – it took multiple seasons of struggle.

Profar4But there’s a key between Rolen and Profar: Rolen was a back-arm, top hand hitter. If his right (back) shoulder was hurt, he couldn’t get on top of (or even up to) high fastballs.

Here’s what I mean; look how low Rolen’s back shoulder is – he simply doesn’t have the strength in (for him) the rotator cuff to keep it above the ball – and high fastballs eat him up. Even this – a waist-high fastball – got past his hands. At best, he was going to roll hard with his top hand over the ball and dribble to third, or, more likely, pop up to right:

 

Now, here’s Profar this spring; just like before the injury, his swing isn’t top-hand dominant. The lead arm pulls and leads the hands through the ball, meaning his entire upper back – not just his back shoulder – help keep his swing level or slightly up. He can stay naturally short and on top of the ball with his entire mechanical system, not the power of his backside and shoulder (as was the case with both Schmidt and later Rolen) (click the pic):

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Look how easily he stays on top of an inside pitch and hits a top-spin liner to right. His WHOLE BODY, led by his front side, stays level, and his HANDS get on top of the ball (pulled by the lead arm and simply supported by his back side, rather than forced by pure muscle). That’s a great sign for a guy whose front (right) shoulder should be dropping. It doesn’t, at least here.

We see it just as clearly, but more recently and clearly, on this homer in the Arizona Fall League, where he stays back and drives the ball. His setup is still quiet, much like it was before, but is less upright. He rests the bat more on his shoulder – logical, given that he’s building strength, but also because it keeps him from “muscling” the ball versus what he does, which involves letting his hips and hands lead the bat and letting that (surprisingly strong rehabilitated) front shoulder lead and guide him into the ball (click the pic):

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What the new Profar approach reminds me of, honestly, is a young Don Mattingly: a quiet, crouched setup with a simple weight shift and a look to drive the ball on a line to all fields – taking elevation where he gets it, but not forcing it. Compare the homer above to a homer Mattingly used to tie the record for homers in consecutive games (1987 versus your Texas Rangers – although the screenshot is a blast vs. Boston):

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Calling him a young Mattingly might seem like high praise, but there are a lot of similarities. Profar’s approach has always been all fields, as we’ll see from his 2013 spray chart, and his power comes from both sides to all fields:


Source: FanGraphs
Now, those are his spray charts as a switch hitter, and they are understandably balanced.

Let’s look at his charts as a right-handed hitter and a left-handed hitter side by side:


Source: FanGraphs
As a RHB vs Lefties – far fewer at-bats, but largely a pull ground ball hitter with flies to the opposite field, but NOT so much that you can do more than shade your outfielders to right side. With his back (right) arm a bit weaker, I’d expect him to continue (and possibly accentuate) this tendency for flies to right, although with him depending more on the lead arm for power and the back arm for guidance, the fly balls to right should turn into a few more ground balls and line drives, and the grounders to left might get a bit weaker until the strength fully comes back and he can get hard on top of the ball inside.

Now, as a lefty hitter facing righties, we see the following:


Source: FanGraphs
He is a pull grounder and line-drive hitter but stays back to hit enough of the latter, and fly balls, to the opposite field and up the middle that you can’t shade him too far. With his front arm the injured one here, I’d expect him to become a bit more pull-happy, as his back arm is stronger, but with his intelligence, he’ll likely TRY to wait longer and actually drive the ball more to the left of second base. Again, it’s that left-handed stroke and approach that brings to mind Mattingly.

I honestly don’t trust anyone who comes back from the same injury TWICE before seeing a regular-season game, so I’m going to say what we saw in 2013 is indicative of what we can expect in 2016 – I think Profar’s talent is that good.

So what does that mean? Well, here are his big league stats for his time in 2012-13, as well as his career minor league stats:

Big Leagues

AB H 2B 3B HR SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
303 70 13 0 7 2 26 67 0.231 0.301 0.343 0.645

Minors

AB H 2B 3B HR SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1349 372 91 17 35 53 182 223 0.276 0.365 0.446 0.811

Profar has great strikeout to walk ratios and especially strong gap power (2B and 3B) in the minors. His big league stats are what you’d expect from a kid – power at that level should develop last, especially at 19 and 20. His strikeout to walk rates are off, too, but he still managed to show patience.

I’m going to say, as a projection, we can take his minor league totals, add in his big league stats, and expect something along the 500AB average of those two, but to compensate for the reality of the big league stats, we’ll make them an equal 50%, and average out the minor league stats over the same Abs before we make our predictions. What do we get? The following – far less scientific than ZIPS, but ok for my non-statistician mind:

Lev AB H 2B 3B HR SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
MLB 303 70 13 0 7 2 26 67 0.231 0.301 0.343 0.645
Minors 303 84 20 4 8 12 41 50 0.276 0.365 0.446 0.811

Projection over 500 MLB ABs:

AB H 2B 3B HR SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
500 127 28 3 12 11 55 97 0.254 0.333 0.395 0.728

I think the BA and OBP are probably accurate, for a return season, as are the homers. I expect a few more triples and doubles, so would expect a slugging average closer to .420 and an OPS of probably .750. For a COMEBACK season.

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By 2019 or so? I think we’re looking at the projected 25HR power Profar could have, with 40+ doubles and 8-10 triples, along with 20 SB and maybe 10 caught stealing. His average should be .280-.285, with a .375 to .390 OBP range, and a slugging average well above .500. That’s an all-star middle infielder.

With his makeup – always a plus, but even better having overcome devastating injury – look for him to be the closest thing to Adrian Beltre, on the field and off, for the 2019-2020 Rangers, and one of the five key young players, along with Rougned Odor, Lewis Brinson, Nomar Mazara, and Joey Gallo, backing up a veteran Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate and the free-agent-de-jour manning first base and slugging moon shots to left by then.

Combine that with an in-his-prime, mentally and still physically, Yu Darvish, the fully developed Martin Perez, a changeup-master Chi Chi Gonzalez, a ready-for-primetime Luke Jackson, and a veteran but junk balling Cole Hamels, plus power arms having come into their own in the bullpen, and we’re spraying champagne and winning the last game in October.

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Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington.
He pitched - typically backing up third after doing so - and eventually settled into catching in leagues throughout Richardson and Plano in his youth, graduating from and lettering in baseball at Richardson Berkner High School in 1998. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner and buys bits by the megabyte. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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