Analyzing Potential Top MLB Prospect Position Changes and If They'll Work
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Simply because a prospect is deemed ready for the major leagues does not mean they’re guaranteed an everyday role with their respective organization.
If only it was that easy.
In most cases, even the game’s more revered prospects are blocked at their natural position at the major league level. While the aforementioned scenario may normally result in the exploration of a trade involving the blocked prospect, some teams are understandably reluctant to part with such a big piece of their future without exhausting all other options.
As a result, teams have no choice but to consider a position change, both as a means of addressing a deficiency in their big-league lineup and in ensuring they harvest their young players' long-term value.
So far this season, prospects Jurickson Profar and Anthony Rendon have emerged as the leading candidates to be moved from their natural position on the left side of the infield to second base, coincidentally.
However, while both players offer tremendous offensive upside, only one of them has a legitimate future at the position.
There’s no question that Jurickson Profar, who was widely regarded as the top prospect in the game headed into the 2013 season, is ready for the major leagues.
As a 19-year-old last season, the switch-hitter parlayed a mastery of the Double-A level into a September call-up audition with the Rangers.
As I detailed earlier in the month, Profar’s long-term future was drastically altered when the Rangers agreed to an eight-year, $120 million contract extension with All-Star Elvis Andrus, an outstanding shortstop in his own right. As a result, the now-20-year-old is theoretically blocked at the position for roughly the next decade with Andrus under team control through the 2022 season.
While the Rangers could explore trading Profar to address their current weaknesses in the major leagues (starting pitching and outfielders), it’s more realistic, at least at this point, for the organization to explore moving their prized prospect to second base.
As a shortstop, Profar has all the tools to remain at the position long-term with excellent range, sure hands, tremendous instincts and a strong, accurate arm. In theory, a legitimate shortstop should possess both, the athleticism and tools to play any position on the field.
Considering that the 20-year-old has 26 games at the position over four minor-league seasons—and that doesn’t include spring training—there’s no doubt in my mind that Profar would be anything short of a solid infielder at the highest level.
However, the position change would also take some cooperation from Ian Kinsler, who’s locked up through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018. In order for Profar to have a clear path to playing time at the keystone, the Rangers will need to shift Kinsler either to left field or first base, a notion he met with resistance during the offseason.
Even though the organization would prefer not to trade Kinsler, at least not this early into his potentially team-friendly contract, it may represent the more realistic course of action to ensure that Profar receives everyday playing time.
While the Rangers could plug Profar into their lineup at several positions, the same cannot be said for the Washington Nationals and top prospect Anthony Rendon.
Although he was promoted from Double-A to the major leagues this weekend after Ryan Zimmerman was placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, the 22-year-old’s future at the hot corner still is uncertain.
Considering that Zimmerman is under contract through the 2019 season, the Nationals will presumably keep him at the position for as long as physically possible. Besides his current hamstring issue, the 28-year-old third baseman continues to battle through a shoulder injury that has severely altered his arm motion and release point. He already has four errors in 15 games this season.
If Zimmerman’s ailing shoulder is more serious than the organization has let on—such as a potential career threatening injury—then it’s conceivable that he’ll ultimately move across the infield to first base. However, such a move would be easier said than done with Adam LaRoche under contract through 2014.
Assuming that Zimmerman is able to remain relatively healthy and stay at third base, then the Nationals will have to be creative in how they get Rendon, who owns arguably the best combination of hit-tool projection and plate discipline in the minor leagues, into the everyday lineup.
The most likely scenario involves moving him from third to second base, a position at which he’s played only two games as a professional. At the surface, Rendon’s smooth actions, soft hands and strong arm are a clean fit at secnd base. However, the reality is that he’s simply not the athlete he was during his early days at Rice.
Rendon has suffered three serious ankle injuries over the past four seasons, including a fractured left ankle last season—in his second career game as a professional—that limited him to only 43 games.
The injuries have cost him a step in his speed and limited his range defensively. Even though Rendon has above-average arm strength across the diamond, it pales in comparison to the rifle he showcased as a college sophomore before suffering a shoulder injury.
I’m not opposed to the Nationals exploring the idea, but it represents a monster risk considering his inherent risk of injury, not to mention the perpetual concern regarding his durability. Plus, as a second baseman, Rendon would be subjected to the inevitable contact involved with turning the double play.
While his projection as a bat-first second baseman is made even more attractive by his presumptive spot in the Nationals’ potent major-league lineup, it’s more likely to negatively affect his long-term potential.
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