The Rangers win when I'm not looking. Every time I pay attention, Roy Oswalt is giving up eleventy home runs, Yu Darvish is walking the bases loaded, and Josh Hamilton is swinging at subterranean breaking balls. The Rangers are in first place, though. And it's not the hangin'-on kind of first -- they have the largest lead of any division leader, and they're 20 games over .500. They might not be the best team in baseball, but they're one of the three or four teams in the discussion. They're probably the best team in baseball, apologies to the Yankees, Nationals, and Reds. I should probably just not watch the games.
The Rangers also have a fantastic problem. The two headers on this MLB.com article sum up the problem nicely. The first:
Top prospect Profar among candidates to join bench
And the second:
Andrus ranked best shortstop by AL managers
You can see the dilemma. Jurickson Profar is the best prospect in baseball, and he happens to play shortstop. Andrus is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, and he's hitting .299/.369/.399. At some point in the future, the Rangers will have quite the decision to make. The possibilities include a blockbuster trade, a 25-year-old Wally Pipp, a disgruntled Ian Kinsler, and several crazy contingency plans we haven't thought of yet. And then when Profar is entrenched, he'll have to watch his back for the next great Rangers shortstop. Being a young Rangers shortstop is like being married to Hugh Hefner.
But that's not a problem for 2012. For this season, the Rangers are desperately trying to return to the World Series for the third straight season, and they're trying to build the best roster they possibly can. Profar would immediately be the best backup middle infielder in the American League. What would the bench time do to his development? What about his service time? Relevant questions, but both trumped by the quest to build the best possible roster.
The Orioles already called up Manny Machado. The Pirates are already enjoying the low-contact, high-power ways of Starling Marte. The Reds could call up Billy Hamilton. Profar would be the last of the prospects called up before September, which is something like a trading deadline after the trading deadline -- a way to add impact prospects. It almost seems like a trend.
But the last-second additions of top prospects to playoff-bound teams isn't new. Francisco Rodriguez snuck onto the 2002 Angels roster and became a sensation. David Price made his playoff debut as a shutdown reliever for the Rays in 2008, and Matt Moore went from a regular-season afterthought to a key cog in the truncated Rays run last season.
If you're looking for a little parallelism, remember that Profar is from Curaçao. There isn't exactly a long history of 19-year-old Curaçaoans in the postseason, but there certainly is a memorable one. Andruw Jones might have been the greatest playoff performance in baseball history from a surprising prospect.
But is Profar that kind of impact prospect? His career to this point:
The numbers are much more impressive when you realize he's just 19. That's an excellent season for a 19-year-old in AA, especially a plus-defending shortstop. But Jones had an OPS over 1.000 across two levels before he came up -- the kind of numbers that hint at immediate success in the majors. Profar's numbers are nice for his age, but nice for his age doesn't necessarily mean he'll hit well in the majors right away.
The numbers might not translate directly to major-league success, but he doesn't have to be an immediate All-Star. He just has to be better than the Utility General, Alberto Gonzalez. He should be that, and he would still have the chance to be something much more than that.
But the Rangers are just looking for the best 25 men on their team right now, and they'll worry about the rest later. Profar is one of the 25 best players in the system. He'll probably get his chance to help a little this year, and then the Rangers will get to tackle that ridiculously pleasant problem in the future.