Jurickson Profar was widely considered the best prospect in baseball before the season started. The Rangers have now began working with him on playing in the outfield to help him get some playing time with the big league club. With Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus already occupying the middle infield, much has been written about how the Rangers can/should get Profar playing time (with the extension of Andrus, the most common theories are that the Rangers should trade or move Kinsler, who has a big contract himself, to the outfield). In this post, I don’t want to bore readers with yet another post on what the Rangers should do. Instead, I want to look at what Profar has shown offensively so far in the Majors. Through 35 games (122 plate appearances), the switch hitting Profar has pretty mediocre peripherals (looking at BB/K/ISO), comparing to Adam Jones with a little less power, or Howie Kendrick and Corey Patterson (slighty more power than Patterson) with a few more strikeouts, not exactly what you want to see from a top prospect in baseball.
Of course, it is a small sample size. His plate discipline numbers, despite the low walk rate, have him as a guy who swings a little less than average and swings out of the zone less than average. He is getting pitches inside the zone at about an average rate, and making more contact than average. So just from those numbers, you would expect the peripherals to improve. Since he is a switch hitter, I broke his average strike zones into two graphs, one as a left-handed hitter, and one as a right-handed hitter.
Pitchers are staying way outside away from him, but he is swinging and making contact on pitches about in the same spot, a little higher, and a little closer to him than the average pitch. The closest group to him is actually the swinging strikes, but it is also the grouping that is the furthest down (breaking balls obviously).
As a right-hander, Profar has yet to have a run scoring play, and his strike zone breaks down a lot differently:
His swinging strikes are again the pitches the closest to him, but this time, they are not the lowest. Most of the pitches he is seeing are in the middle part of the plate, and pitchers are not trying to work extremely away from him. He tries to swing at the pitches that are more up and in on him, but the pitches he actually makes contact with are closer to the all pitches, right about in the middle of the plate. His left-side seems much stronger than his right-side. What about where he is hitting the ball? Using the position that fielded the ball (or for homers, the part of the ball park it left), we can label the pitches in the strike zone and see what pitches he is pulling or going the other way with
As a lefty, he is pulling just about everything on the inside of the plate. On the outside of the plate, it looks like he is doing a good job of going up the middle, but he is also pulling a lot of those. Not a lot of balls hit to left-field overall, with just a couple to shortstop. Surprisingly, he actually hit for more power as a right-handed hitter with a better K/BB as a lefty in the minors. Based on the above graph (and the fact that all 3 homeruns he has hit in the Majors are left-handed), that is surprising
The right-handed sample in the Majors is much smaller (as you would expect, since there are about 3 right-handed pitchers for every lefty), so this may be why the data seems a little skewed so far. On the very few balls he has actually seen on the inside part of the plate as a right-handed hitter, he’s been mixed, pulling some, and going the other way with some, most of them staying in the infield. On the outside part of the plate, he is pulling too many of the low pitches to short and 3rd base, with only a couple hit to center to right. The problem is not velocity for Profar, as he has seen 136 pitches over 92 MPH (that is, fastballs that are above average) and whiffed at just 6 of them. Slow pitches aren’t much of a problem either, as he has seen 45 pitches below 80 MPH, and whiffed at just 2 of them.
Even though the walks are low right now, I don’t think his problem is plate discipline. It also looks like he is hitting the ball hard as well, at least as far as batted ball distance goes (for instance, it is better than Lance Berkman’s). In the end, I do think that Profar will be fine at the plate in the Majors, and that his true talent is better than his current numbers. He isn’t overwhelmed with velocity or breaking pitches, he isn’t swinging and missing much, or really even chasing much out of the strike zone. As the sample size gets bigger, expect his numbers to make more sense.