The South Atlantic League at the Low-A level features some exciting prospects and players who could be big league superstars in a few years. We continue the league’s All-Stars with the team’s shortstop, Jurickson Profar.
Name: Jurickson Profar
Age: Turns 19 in February
2011 Team: Hickory Crawdads (TEX)
Basic Batting Stats: .286/.390/.493, 37 doubles, 8 triples, 12 homers, 65 RBI, 86 runs, and 23 stolen bases (9 CS) in 115 games
Fielding Stats: 114 games at shortstop, .955 Fld%
As a 16 year old international free agent out of Curacao in the summer of 2009, every MLB team inquired on Jurickson Profar. All of them were interested in him as a pitcher as he threw in the mid-90′s off the mound, impressive for a player so young. But Profar had always thought of himself as a shortstop, making his decision much more effortless. Once he declared his intentions to be a shortstop as a pro, every team backed away from Profar because he was much less proven as a position player. Every team except for one, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers liked Profar as a pitcher just as much as everyone else, but they acquiesced to his demands to be a shortstop. They signed him to a 1.5 million dollar bonus on July 2nd, 2009. Even since then, the Rangers have been more and more impressed with what they’ve seen.
Having ranked second on our S2S Top 100 Prospects List, Jurickson Profar is one heck of a prospect. And he showed off all his skills in 2011 at Hickory. Profar can do it all and is true 5-tool player. He features excellent bat speed, leading to a great hit tool. He has significantly above-average power for a shortstop with the ability to be, as Nathaniel mentioned in the post linked to above, a 20 home run hitter at some point in the future. Even if that never materializes, Profar will still hit for a lot of doubles and triples and still have plus extra-base power for a shortstop. Profar possesses very good speed and should be a 30 or 40 stolen base threat going forward, but his defense is more of an asset to him in the field. His range is excellent and his hands are off-the-charts for such a young shortstop, and especially since he was so enthusiastically pursued as a pitcher, his arm is truly plus-plus. He showed us flashes and more of all five of these tools in 2011 as he won the 2011 South Atlantic League Most Valuable Player award.
Profar’s talent is undeniable. But in terms of his 2011 performance, there are still things to nitpick and be punctilious about. Despite his great hit tool, why did Profar hit just .286? Andrew Grant’s Minor League Splits tells us some interesting things about Profar’s 2011 season. As it turns out, Profar posted an excellent 17.3% line drive percentage (among his batted balls) compared to the league average of 16.4%. That’s one of the reasons he hit so many extra-base hits. But despite that high line drive rate, his BAbip (batting average on balls in play) came in at just .313, a tick under the league average of .314. Especially confusing is the fact that Profar got several bunt hits over the course of the season, which you would expect to raise his BAbip. So between Profar’s line drive rate, his extra-base power, and his nice bunting ability, it would have been unsurprising if Profar’s BAbip was considerably above that .314 mark. But obviously it wasn’t. Why?
As it turned out, Profar was a flyball hitter in 2011, not a bad thing at all as it helped him get quite a few additional extra-base hits. But in general, flyball hitters post lower BAbip’s because flyballs are less likely to be lucky hits when they’re softly hit than groundballs are, and that would explain at least to some extent why Profar’s BAbip was lower than expected. Profar’s proclivities towards line drive and extra-base hits in addition to his bunting ability is what prevented his BAbip from going any lower than just below the league average. However, that aside, players who are as fast as Profar are supposed to post well-above average BAbip’s even if they’re flyball hitters. As it turns out, the problem wasn’t that Profar was simply a flyball hitter, but an inefficient one. 28.0% of his batted balls were flyballs to the outfield, below the league average of 29.2%, but truly troubling is that 10.8% of his flyballs were pop-ups well above the league average of 7.2%. The fact that 27.8% of his flyballs were pop-ups compared to the 19.8% league average is pretty alarming. And it only makes matters worse that except for when he hit balls into the gaps, Profar basically could not utilize his speed at all when he was hitting these flyballs. Having just a 38.5% groundball percentage compared to the league average of 42.8% probably prevented Profar from hitting .300. Profar still hit .286, but he should be able to hit much higher going forward.
There are some minor things that don’t show up on a player’s basic stats and may never be important but there’s some chance that they could be indicative of a major flaw. Profar’s above-average pop-up rate may be an example of that. We saw above that Profar hit for an above-average line drive rate and he also was excellent at making contact, posting a 70.7% contact rate, well above the league average of 59.2%. It’s pretty impressive that Profar hit so many line drives and extra-base hits while making such an incredible amount of contact. But the amount of pop-ups Profar hit is particularly worrisome because of the nature of Sally League pitching. The Sally League is known for having pitchers with excellent velocity, although often their secondary pitches or their control isn’t up to par. Against a group of fastball pitchers, Profar was too often late when he attempted to drive the ball, not a good sign. That’s something that may just improve for Profar and become a non-issue in coming years, but it’s something to keep an eye on, because we all know that hitting fastballs well is extremely important for any hitter.
What really sets Jurickson Profar apart as a prospect is his plate discipline. Profar struck out just 62 times all season, a minuscule 12.2% of his plate appearances, nearly 50% better than the league average of 20.1%. And even more impressive is that he walked 64 times, 62 unintentionally, and his 12.2% unintentional walk percentage was well above the league average of 8.3%. It’s impossible to refute that Profar has an extremely advanced feel for hitting for someone his age, and that will be a huge asset for him everywhere he plays.
Defensively, Profar is just so smooth for an 18 year old shortstop, and he has surefire Gold Glove potential moving forward. He has the ability to make highlight reel plays with both his glove and arm.
Jurickson Profar was simply a cut above Sally League hitters in 2011, and while there is definite room for improvement, his full-season debut was about as good as anybody could have hoped.
Jurickson Profar will continue to be one of the top prospects in baseball and excluding Yu Darvish, the top prospect in the Rangers organization. It will be very interesting in a couple years what happens between Profar and Elvis Andrus. Profar has said that Andrus is a player he looks to model his career after, but while Profar won’t progress through the minors as fast as Andrus did and trails a bit behind him in terms of speed, Profar’s hit and power tools tower over Andrus and could potentially make him into a much better all-around player. Profar will head to High-A in 2011 unless the Rangers decide to be aggressive and send him to Double-A, certainly a possibility, and there’s a very good chance that Profar will make his big league debut by September of 2013. Jurickson Profar possesses a world of potential and he’ll look to continue to develop and maximize his ability and make himself into a superstar major league shortstop.
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