The exhibition season unofficially kicked off Monday with its usual lack of fanfare.
But lost in the stream of sarcastic tweets from jaded beat writers was this little nugget: Jurickson Profar played shortstop for the first time since 2013. He made a diving stop on a grounder, tracked down a pop fly in shallow left field and, oh yeah, homered off teammate Cole Hamels in the intrasquad game. Here's both players' reaction to that, via MLB.com:
But it's not what he did in a singular just-for-fun competition that matters. It's that he could do it. For the first time in three years, he was a ballplayer again, and when last a ballplayer, he was the object of every Fantasy owner's obsession, named the top overall prospect according to Baseball America in 2013, ahead of stalwarts like Jose Fernandez, Miguel Sano and Carlos Correa.
You know the other No. 1 prospects of the last six years? Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, Bryce Harper (twice) and Jason Heyward. We're still waiting on Buxton, but otherwise, they're all Fantasy mainstays today. To overlook Profar because of the last two years would be a mistake.
So what has changed since then? Well, he finally bit the bullet and had the shoulder operated on last year after suffering setback after setback while trying to rehabilitate it. The problem is fixed, not just masked, so presumably we won't hear much about it anymore. He got 20 games to test it in the Arizona Fall League and hit a respectable .267 with two home runs, six doubles and an .805 OPS. If those numbers seem underwhelming to you, keep in mind it's a small sample for a middle infielder in his first action back from shoulder surgery. And also that he's 23.
That's right: though he has been in our periphery for years now, he's still at an age when most players are just breaking into the big leagues, so it's fair to assume that if he still qualified for prospect lists, he'd rank near the top. Hey, Byron Buxton does, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy either.
So really, it's Profar's experience keeping him under radar, which is kind of backward. What we have here is a soon-to-be shortstop-eligible player with good contact skills and legitimate power potential, and yet Fantasy owners couldn't care less.
Well, is he going to play enough? That's the big question, because with Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor entrenched up the middle, Profar isn't exactly in the mix for a starting job. What he could become, though, is sort of the Rangers' version of Ben Zobrist -- a super utility guy who ends up getting close to regular at-bats just by filling in for others around the diamond.
He has played third base. He has played left field. The Rangers have a 36-year-old at one and a converted shortstop at the other. Opportunities will present themselves.
And if Profar continues to prove adept at shortstop and the Rangers determine they can trust him there on a full-time basis, it's not like Andrus is indispensable. He has a contract they'd like to get off the books and not nearly as much offensive potential as Profar.
It's an inevitability akin to Trea Turner's anointing in Washington, but with even more upside and the likelihood of part-time at-bats in the meantime. Put it all together, and Profar is the ultimate post-hype sleeper. His spring performance will go a long way to determining whether he's drafted in mixed leagues and how high.