Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jurickson Profar's Future Looks Great, Especially If Baseball America's Track Record Holds Up*

(*the below post is by guest contributor Michael Pina)

Expectations are as much a part of sports as tangible production, for better or worse. We look at players who we think will make a positive impact in the future differently than those we don’t, even in situations where the latter is consistently outperforming the former right before our eyes.

In this way, expectations do more harm than good. But ironically, in major league baseball, a sport that includes a larger dose of “luck” as a part of its recipe for both individual and team success than any other, Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list typically reads like a gateway into the sport’s bright future, at least for the players listed near the top.

Right now the preceding two paragraphs are more relevant to the Texas Rangers than any other organization; as you’re probably aware, they have Jurickson Profar, baseball’s number one prospect in 2013 and an instinctive baseball wizard, according to Baseball America.

So, how accurate has Baseball America been over the past decade at predicting who’s going to become a household name? And what does it mean for Profar, who despite his enormous potential and odds on ability to make at least a few All-Star games, will start the season in Triple A?

In 2012 Profar was named the seventh best prospect in baseball, behind, in descending order, Jesus Montero, Julio Teheran, Yu Darvish, Mike Trout, Matt Moore, and Bryce Harper. Every one of those players has either already made an impact at the major league level, or begun to send positive ripples throughout their respective organizations.

Let’s go through the previous nine years and take a closer look at Baseball America’s top prospect; see if there’s anything Profar, and the Rangers, have to worry about.

Baseball America’s top prospect selection was the same in 2011 as it was in 2012: Bryce Harper. A player who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager and in limited major league action more than looks like he belongs. If Harper doesn’t win at least one MVP award in his career he’ll be a major disappointment.

In 2010 it was Jason Heyward, a sweet swinging lefty who, going by projections before his debut, was calculated to average two home runs per game. He hasn’t quite done that, but out of everyone in his 2007 draft class, Heyward has the second highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and last year he hit 27 home runs on a team that went to the playoffs. Not bad. 

Almost every name listed as a top 20 prospect in 2010 is already well known in baseball circles: Stephen Strasburg, Mike Stanton, Madison Bumgarner, Starlin Castro, Jeremy Hellickson, Domonic Brown, Justin Smoak, Buster Posey, Desmond Jennings, and more.

In 2009 the top prospect was Baltimore Orioles franchise catcher Matt Wieters, with perennial Cy Young candidate David Price coming in second.

The year after that Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce was number one. Out of all of Baseball America’s number one prospects since 2003, Bruce’s career might be the biggest let down if you look at what he’s done on a relative level (right behind him was Evan Longoria). But by no means is he a bad player. At the age of 25 Bruce has made two All-Star teams and his power numbers have improved every year since his debut.

In 2007 the top prospect was the infamous Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who despite going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA at the age of 27, also led the league in hits per nine innings (6.9) and walks that year. It was downhill from there. Matsuzaka did, however, win his one and only World Series start in 2007—even if he did only go 5.1 innings.

Delmon Young and Justin Upton were the top two prospects in 2006. Now on his fourth team, Young has yet to reach his full potential, and probably never will. But despite his early career shortcomings in the field, Young has transformed himself into a dangerous DH who’ll swing at just about anything. And that was good enough to win the 2012 American League Championship Series MVP award.

In both 2004 and 2005, the top prospect was Minnesota Twins lifer Joe Mauer, one of the very best players in baseball since making his debut at the age of 20. He’s a three-time batting champ who was named MVP in 2009 after leading the league in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. He’s very, very good.

In 2003, 10 years removed from Profar being number one, the top prospect was Mark Teixeira. Long past his prime, the Yankees slugger has had a consistent career at both the plate and first base, where he’s walked away with five Gold Glove awards.

In the last decade, all eight players listed below Profar as Baseball America’s top prospect has, for the most part, played how most people thought they would. All were destined for greatness, and all have already—or, barring injury, surely will—treat the threatening word “expectation” like frothing college football players exploding onto the field, straight through their school’s banner.

The stage is set for Jurickson Profar to join them.

Michael Pina is a writer for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network and ScoreBig.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.

1 comment(s) regarding this post:

JG March 29, 2013 at 10:49 AM  

I first want to thank Michael for a great post and contributing to little ole' TTRB.

Now on to the comment...man, I hope Profar is half as good as some of the other #1 prospects mentioned in the post. And that's why I was really hoping Kins would move to 1B, so we can find out sooner rather than later what the Rangers have in Profar. At the same time starting him out in the minors this year may be an organizational/money-strategy move. It pushes off his arbitration eligibility one more year I think. If the Rangers aren't in first place in late June or July I wouldn't be surprised to see him called up (see the Angels/Trout last year).

Again, great post Michael and thanks!

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