This one goes to 11.
This afternoon, weather permitting, Yu Darvish will take on the Milwaukee Brewers, pitching what is estimated to be four innings before something approaching 10,000 in Surprise and a much bigger number tuned in locally to Fox Sports Southwest.
While Number 11 makes his third spring training start, each televised locally if not nationally, the other Number 11 in Rangers camp will suit up on the back fields, a few hundred yards away and a million miles from the glare. A few dozen people will line the chain-link fence girding the field that Jurickson Profar will play on, facing a Kansas City squad misleadingly designated as “AAA,” with a good chance that the pitchers not working today will outnumber everyone else in the crowd gathered behind the fence between the dugouts.
Profar was brought over for two big league game appearances last spring in Surprise (1 for 4, RBI double), yet only once this month (0 for 1, walk, caught stealing) despite all that’s transpired over the last year for the player widely considered to be the number three position player prospect in baseball, behind Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
The reason is likely because of the spirited camp competition for the utility infield spot that didn’t exist when Andres Blanco was around a year ago. Any plate appearance or inning in the field for Profar would take away a potential opportunity for Yangervis Solarte, Alberto Gonzalez, Greg Miclat, or Luis Hernandez to push the immediate audition forward.
But then again, infielders Leury Garcia and Guilder Rodriguez and Renny Osuna have each gotten multiple chances to play in big league games this month, as has Matt Kata. Maybe management isn’t ramping up the “Just In Case” assignments for Profar this year just to make sure Ron Washington doesn’t even think about making a case to take the 19-year-old to Arlington in two weeks.
I’m kidding about that part.
Baseball America used to publish a “Baseball for the Ages” feature each year, recognizing the best baseball players in the world from age 12 through age 25. The editors admit that the focus was on domestic players, which I suppose may explain why, in 2005, the final year that BA ran the feature, the chosen 12-year-old was Delino DeShields Jr. rather than the two-time Little League World Series star Profar, and the 18-year-old was Andrew McCutchen, with Colby Rasmus and Chris Volstad as runners-up instead of Darvish, who as a Nippon Ham Fighters rookie had thrown a complete-game, two-hit Japanese League shutout a year after finishing high school.
You get the sense that Darvish would probably prefer less hype, while Profar would welcome a little more. In a couple dozen other camps, Profar would be getting far more attention than he is in Texas, and that’s OK. He’ll get his moment, soon enough. A year from now he’ll be in big league camp as a non-roster invite, and the 100-plus with cameras and notepads in Surprise who are there for Darvish and Kinsler and Holland and Andrus will take notice. It’s inevitable when you’re around the kid long enough.
Darvish is strikingly big for an Asian pitcher but doesn’t throw 98. Profar is strikingly small for a blue-chip prospect and doesn’t have an 80 tool. But you factor in the completeness of their games, and the nuances, and their presence and their youth and their feel for the game and their taste for the big stage, and you start to think about the awesome likelihood that they’re going to be teammates for at least half of Darvish’s deal with the Rangers.
You can watch Darvish pitch this afternoon. You’ll have to walk to the back fields in Surprise and make sure you’re not standing directly behind Zach Jackson in order to get a good look at Profar.
BA predicted a few days ago that the Rangers will win the World Series (over Arizona) in 2015, if not before, with Darvish winning the Cy Young and Profar figuring in somewhere.
They’ll be in Texas, together, before then, with plenty of hype to go around. With my time this spring in Arizona now complete, I’m looking forward to camp ending and the 2012 season getting underway, but in the back of my mind I can’t wait for the time when Jurickson Profar has to give up Number 11, once and for all.