Is Jurickson Profar, Former No. 1 Overall MLB Prospect, Worth the Trade Gamble?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 30, 2015

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 14:Jurickson Profar #13 of the Texas Rangers looks on from the dugout before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 14, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
R. Yeatts/Getty Images

It's not uncommon for a player to go from being a top prospect to being trade bait in a matter of years. That sort of thing happens all the time.

But Jurickson Profar? He's a different story. The Texas Rangers' 22-year-old middle infielder is definitely a former top prospect, but his status as trade bait is...well, even "complicated" is putting it lightly.

If nothing else, Profar is trade bait because other teams want him to be. There have been Profar rumors here and there throughout the entire offseason. Recently, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the Rangers are still receiving interest in Profar but have clearly yet to be convinced by any offers:

Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

rangers are getting a lot of hits on jurickson profar. at the moment very much inclined to hold.

One can see where both sides are coming from here.

For prospective buyers, Profar is a former top prospect whose value has been crushed by a bad right shoulder that's sidelined him for two straight years. However, the Rangers can also see that Profar is a former top prospect, and they also know he's due for only $508,000 (per MLB Trade Rumors) in what will be his age-23 season in 2016. He's neither expensive nor past his prospect expiration date.

"We are not looking to trade him," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said in November, via Joel Sherman of the New York Post. "We held on to him this long. We are pretty optimistic his shoulder is fit. The mindset is to wait and see where he is. We believe he will get back to his value, which was one of the best young players out there."

The message coming from Texas is clear: Just because Profar's value is down doesn't mean the Rangers have to sell low on him. For teams with Profar on their radar, that presents a question of how badly they want to be the team that gambles on him.

To this end, there's much to consider.

Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

Let's jump back in time a couple of years to 2013.

Going into that season, Profar had made the leap from being a consensus top-10 prospect to being the consensus No. 1 prospect. Per Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus each put Profar ahead of all other prospects.

It wasn't one thing that they all liked about him. It was everything. As the folks at Baseball Prospectus put it:

Long term, Profar has a chance to be the superior player, with plus chops with the glove and a plus bat; the kind of player that every org in baseball dreams of acquiring. It's not just the tools that Profar beings to the table that make him special, it's the instincts and feel that not only allow game utility but push the tools beyond their paper grade.

This was only three years ago, but they've been three rough years for the Curacao native.

Profar got his first real taste of the majors when he played in 85 games in 2013, but he failed to impress by hitting just .234 with a .644 OPS. Then came a right shoulder injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014 season. Just when it seemed like he had a chance to come back from that, he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum last February and was sidelined for almost all of 2015 as well.

Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, "almost all" is not the same as "all." Profar was able to play in 12 minor league games at the end of 2015 and then played in 20 games in the Arizona Fall League.

It seems to be Profar's performance in the AFL that has his corner of the trade rumor mill buzzing. He hit a solid .267 with an .805 OPS over 91 plate appearances, inspiring generally positive reviews of his bat.

Among those with nice things to say were Eric Longenhagen and Eric Karabell of ESPN.com. Both noted that Profar looked comfortable at the plate and observed him making strong contact to boot. And though it may not mean good things for his speed, Longenhagen noted that Profar seems to have bulked up during his time off, resulting in improved power.

The bottom line, in Karabell's words: "Sure, Profar hasn't played in a big league game since 2013, but the promise of greatness still exists."

There is, however, one pretty big catch. The promise of Profar's greatness may still be there on offense, but the jury's still out on the other side of the ball.

Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

At the time Profar went in for surgery, word was it would take a full year for him to recover. The Rangers haven't pushed their luck with that prognosis. Profar only DH'd in his 12 minor league games at the end of 2015, and he continued to DH in the AFL. He hasn't played in the field since 2013.

Even the work Profar has been able to do on the field has been limited. As Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic reported in November, Profar was taking grounders at shortstop and second base, but without making throws. His only throwing work came in playing long toss at 120 feet, and he was only doing that three times a week.

So for now, Profar is only half of a promising young player. He's shown he can hit, but that's only so encouraging as long as his ability to play the field remains a mystery.

Said mystery won't be resolved until Profar hits the field in spring training, effectively giving teams six more weeks to weigh how much they're willing to give up in a trade for him. And as much as teams may want to buy low, this note from Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News indicates the Rangers have already deflected all buy-low interest in Profar:

Evan Grant @Evan_P_Grant

Daniels acknowledges some clubs have checked on Profar; also knows they are seeking low-cost value right now. Rangers value him more highly

As for what it would take to acquire Profar right now, it stands to reason he's not going to attract anything of real value all on his own.

But perhaps the Rangers could deal Profar as part of a larger trade. For example, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted that Profar's name has been invoked in trade talks involving Jose Fernandez. It wouldn't necessarily have to involve Fernandez, but one can certainly imagine Profar as a complementary piece next to a prized prospect in a blockbuster.

This is not to say Profar would be a mere throw-in, mind you. The idea would be that the Rangers and the exchanging team agree to value him more like a prized prospect. This way, the Rangers would be holding on to their other prized prospects, and Profar's new team would be the one making the upside play with Profar.

The difference, of course, is that it's basically costing the Rangers nothing to make an upside play with Profar. Any team that trades for him at this point will be paying a price to do the same, which would obviously up the stakes.

If it turns out Profar can still throw well enough to play short or second, then great. He would be back on track to be a potential two-way star in the middle of the infield. Those are good guys to have.

But for the time being, that's still a decent-sized "if." It's going to be that way until at least spring training, when teams will be getting their first look at Profar's throwing in a game setting in over two years.

In other words, patience is indeed a virtue for teams interested in Profar. They're not getting him at buy-low prices now, so why jump the gun with a market-value offer when Profar's chance to prove he's worth market value is just a few weeks away?

If Profar's shoulder is looking good in spring training, that's when teams should feel free to ramp up their interest. Pulling off a deal for Profar would still involve some risk, but at least teams will be able to justify it on the basis that he's a former elite talent who still has youth and a good bat, and who appears fully recovered from the shoulder troubles that sidelined him for two seasons.

Stay tuned. It's not going to be long before Profar's status as trade bait goes from being up in the air to being down on solid ground.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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