SAN FRANCISCO - Depending on whom you ask, Jurickson Profar, an infielder in the Texas Rangers’ system, is either the best middle infield prospect in baseball, or simply the best prospect in baseball.
What matters most at the moment is that the 20-year-old is one of the players who will be attempting to finish off the Netherlands’ Cinderella story at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
“This is going to be my first time playing for them, and it’s a great honor for me,” Profar said Saturday. “I’m very happy to be here. You can see right away why they’re winning. They’re great guys, great manager, great coaches. So I’m proud.”
Profar joined the team after the second round as a replacement for an injured player and was all smiles on Saturday. He was generous with his time in the dugout and spent most of the day expressing pride at what the Netherlands has accomplished without him so far during the WBC.
“It’s an honor for me,” he said of joining the team. “Especially to play with guys who I grew up with. It’s something special.”
Profar worked out with his teammates on a sunny, breezy, day by the bay at AT&T Park on Saturday. He’ll play second and bat second when the Dutch square off against the Dominican Republic in the WBC semifinals on Monday.
“We’re going to go out and do some plays today, bunt plays, so he can work out with (shortstop Andrelton) Simmons up the middle, and also the pitchers,” Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. “So he can figure out who can get the balls or not.
“Those are the types of things it’s hard to simulate because the game speed is different, but you need to work on them so we can get on the same page.”
Profar is rated as the No. 1 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and MLB.com. He spent the majority of 2012 in the Texas League with the Frisco RoughRiders, the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate in Frisco, Texas. There the Willemstad, Curacao, native hit .281 with 26 doubles, seven triples, 14 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .820 on-base plus slugging percentage in 126 games. He also had 16 stolen bases.
He played in nine games for the Rangers in 2012, and hit a solo home run in his first major league at-bat on Sept. 2, 2012. A shortstop by trade, Profar will move to second base so the red-hot Simmons, among the Dutch team’s top players during the second round of the WBC, can remain at shortstop.
“He brings energy,” outfielder Wladimir Balentien said of Profar. “He’s brings us a young kid who plays hard, great defense, he can hit, he can get on base, and that’s what we need. We need the first couple of guys to get on base, so the Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 guys can drive them in. I think having him in the lineup, it’s a big upgrade for us.”
Profar, most likely with some input from the Rangers, declined to join the Netherlands prior to the start of the WBC in order to remain in spring camp and compete for a place on the Rangers’ roster.
The Netherlands did just fine without him, upsetting South Korea and Cuba (twice) during a surprising run through the first two rounds.
“I wasn’t here,” Profar said. “I just came here. I followed them, and they did a great job.”
The Dutch’s ascent wasn’t without consequence, as they lost infielder Yurdenell DeCaster and others to injuries along the way. Which is why the Netherlands was able to reach out to Profar again, this time getting the answer they wanted.
“I’m probably the happiest guy that he’s here,” Meulens said.
The young star wanted to play for the Netherlands, but was also motivated by the chance to play alongside five-time MLB All-Star Andruw Jones, who most members of the team grew up idolizing.
“He’s a great guy” Profar said. “When I signed with the Rangers (in 2009), he was playing with the Rangers. He’s a great guy, a great personality, and it’s an honor for me to play with him.”
Profar wasn’t with the Dutch team in Taiwan or Japan, but has made an easy transition into the fabric of the team.
“The moment he walked into the clubhouse the other day, he figured out we’ve got a special thing going,” Meulens said. “He blended right in. It’s not like he doesn’t know these guys. We work out every winter together on the island (of Curacao). They’ve been doing it for years. He’s done it the last three years or so, since he’s been a professional baseball player.”
Despite the attention his presence is likely to draw, Profar said he’s “just here to play.”
Well, there was something else he said he wanted to do in San Francisco.
“Win the championship,” he said simply, wearing a smile from ear to ear.