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Rangers' Profar preps for OF debut

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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It’s not a bad idea for the Rangers to try Jurickson Profar in the outfield, particularly when he isn’t going to play much behind Ian Kinsler at second and Elvis Andrus at short.

Frankly, the Rangers could use another outfielder, particularly one who is a switch-hitter with promise.

Left fielder David Murphy is batting .224 with a .663 OPS. Designated hitter Lance Berkman is batting .217 with a .628 OPS since May 12. And, while it’s probably a longshot, right fielder Nelson Cruz could face a suspension in the Biogenesis scandal.

Still, as Profar prepares for his outfield debut by working daily with Rangers coach Gary Pettis, you wonder where this is all going.

The Rangers are asking Profar to learn a new position without the benefit of spring training — and adjust to major league pitching at the same time.

What if he falters? What if his trade value diminishes?

Profar, 20, has been hyped as the next big thing, but at 180 pounds he lacks the physical tools of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Still, the Rangers love Profar’s makeup, view him as a winning player and believe he will develop into an All-Star caliber performer.

Profar’s long-term position remains the question.

Kinsler initially agreed to move to first to accommodate Profar last offseason, then backed off; now Mitch Moreland looks like the long-term answer at that position.

The Rangers could play Profar or Ian Kinsler in the outfield next season — both Murphy and Cruz are potential free agents. But for Kinsler to move, he would need to be convinced that the change is in the team’s best interests.

Scouts consider Profar a better defender at second, but the chances of Kinsler resisting a move would increase if questions persisted about Profar’s overall ability. And Profar, since his promotion on May 19, is batting .263 with a .686 OPS, albeit in only 107 plate appearances.

Trading Profar could be the best solution, particularly with Kinsler under contract through 2017 and Andrus through 2022. But the entire equation could fall apart if Profar sputters. Club officials would lose leverage not only with Kinsler, but also with potential suitors in trade discussions.

WHO WILL PITCH FOR THE PADS?

The Padres are a fascinating outfit, a team that is proving to be surprisingly deep — yet far more vulnerable in their rotation than one might expect from a club that plays at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

While general manager Josh Byrnes plans to pursue upgrades through trades, he acknowledges that the Padres might need to juggle their rotation the entire season, the way that the Orioles did a year ago.

Thus, the only constant will be flux.

The Pads will monitor the workloads of youngsters such as right-hander Andrew Cashner and Triple A lefty Robbie Erlin. They remain open to trading righty Edinson Volquez — just as they were open to trading lefty Clayton Richard before he injured his shoulder — to make room for younger options.

Veteran lefty Eric Stults and righty Jason Marquis have combined for a 3.41 ERA in 187 1/3 innings, but Marquis, in particular, is a candidate for regression — his walk rate is the highest in the majors, his strikeout rate is the 13th lowest and his opponents’ batting average on balls in play is just .239.

Erlin and right-handers Tyson Ross and Burch Smith are among the other possible options for the rotation, and righty Joe Wieland is expected to return from Tommy John surgery after the All-Star break.

If the Padres make a trade, they would prefer a pitcher who is under control beyond this season. By that measure, the AstrosBud Norris and BrewersYovani Gallardo would be preferable to potential free agents such as the MarlinsRicky Nolasco and CubsMatt Garza.

Then again, Nolasco is from southern California, and might be open to an extension if the Padres acquired him.

JAYS PLAYING DEFENSE, TOO

Scouts routinely criticized the Jays’ sloppy play earlier in the season, with one referring to them as a “slow-pitch softball team.” The following statistic, then, qualifies as something of a surprise: The Jays rank fifth in the majors in defensive efficiency, the rate at which balls in play are converted into outs.

How is this possible? General manager Alex Anthopoulos said the team’s defense is much-improved since the first month, and that some of the Jays’ new players might have had a difficult time getting accustomed to the turf at Rogers Centre.

Anthopoulos made special mention of center fielder Colby Rasmus and infielder Maicer Izturis and also noted that Emilio Bonifacio is playing much better at second. The expected return of shortstop Jose Reyes this week should further help the defense, though his replacement, Munenori Kawasaki, has been a plus defender.

SHELBY MILLER: WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

The Rangers had special insight into Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller during his amateur days — Miller, a native of Brownwood, Texas, played for a team managed by one of the Rangers’ scouts at the Area Code Games, a high school showcase event, in 2008.

Yet, the Rangers drafted right-hander Matt Purke with the 14th pick in 2009, while Miller went to the Cardinals at No. 19.

Baseball was overseeing the Rangers’ finances at the time, Purke wanted $6 million and a deal never got done. Miller, who joined the Cardinals for $2.875 million, would have been far easier to sign.

Want more intrigue? Miller told me Friday that he had a pre-draft deal arranged with his hometown Astros, who picked at No. 21. But the Cardinals grabbed him first — thanks to the guy who is now the Astros GM, Cardinals former scouting director, Jeff Luhnow.

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The Astros then selected shortstop Jiovanni Mier from Bonita (Calif.) High School. Mier, 22, was not one of the team’s top 30 prospects entering the season, according to Baseball America. He is batting just .217 with a .628 OPS at Double-A.

INDIANS GET A ‘KLU’

Virtually every contender benefits from at least one surprise contributor, and right-hander Corey Kluber certainly fits that description for the Indians.

Kluber, 27, entered the season with only 15 games of major league experience, and opened the season at Triple A. But he has emerged as a legitimate starter since joining the Indians on April 17, going 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA and even better peripheral numbers.

The league leaders do not yet include Kluber’s name — he’s three innings short of qualifying — but his 8.75 strikeouts per nine innings currently would rank eighth in the AL. His 5.30 strikeout-to-walk rate would rank third and his 3.51 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) would rank 14th.

Kluber is averaging 92.8 mph with his fastball, according to Fangraphs.com, a slight increase from last season. But the biggest difference, Indians officials say, is that he is attacking the strike zone and limiting his walks.

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The Indians acquired Kluber from the Padres in the three-team deal that sent right-hander Jake Westbrook from Cleveland to St. Louis and outfielder Ryan Ludwick from St. Louis to San Diego on July 31, 2010.

MEMORIES OF MARQUIS

Angels right-hander Jerome Williams, who has shifted between the rotation and bullpen without complaint this season, says that he still carries with him the lessons that outfielder Marquis Grissom taught him when the two were teammates with the Giants.

Grissom was beloved by his teammates, and Williams said he considered him almost a second father. At one point, Williams said he even introduced Grissom to his own father, Glenn. Williams chuckles at the memory, joking that it might have been a mistake.

Glenn Williams, after hearing all about Grissom from his son, told the outfielder, “Do what you need to do with Jerome. Treat him like your son.” Well, Grissom complied — and then some.

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Williams said Grissom got on him when he did something wrong, when he was late, even when he was early. The two moved on to the Cubs in 2006, but Grissom retired that spring. Williams said he cried at that news — “cried like a baby.”

AROUND THE HORN

Carlos Lee, who announced his retirement Friday, actually contributed — in a roundabout way — to the construction of this Cardinals bullpen.

The Marlins needed a young third baseman after trading Matt Dominguez for Lee last July 4, and they turned around at the deadline and flipped Edward Mujica for Zack Cox.

Great trade for the Cardinals — Mujica is now their closer, while the Marlins designated Cox for assignment at the end of spring training. Cox cleared waivers, remained with the Marlins and is now at Double-A.

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• On a brighter note for the Marlins, if right-hander Nathan Eovaldi stays healthy, he and righty Jose Fernandez could give the team a powerful 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.

Eovaldi, acquired from the Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez trade, has averaged 97-98 mph with his fastball in two starts since coming off the disabled list with mild shoulder inflammation.

Fernandez, meanwhile, is averaging 94.7 mph, fourth best in the majors among qualifying pitchers behind only Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey and Jeff Samardzija, according to Fangraphs.com.

Right-hander Jacob Turner, while not as hard a thrower as Eovaldi or Fernandez and surely not as good as his 1.97 ERA after five starts, could be another long-term piece.

• Just how good is Astros right-hander Bud Norris? His ERA-plus of 115 says, “pretty good" (ERA-plus is ERA adjusted to ballpark and league, and the average is set to 100). What’s more, he is under club control through 2015.

Rival executives, however, aren’t sure how much of an impact Norris will make if (when) he gets traded to a contender. One reason: Left-handed hitters are batting .313 with an .856 OPS against him.

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“He isn’t the best bet to make a team leap forward,” one exec says. “Will he help a team improve? Yes. Would I stamp him as a difference-maker? Not a definite.”

• A scout who saw Josh Johnson’s recent start against the Rockies described him as “magnificent,” noting that the Blue Jays’ right-hander thrived while pitching inside.

Johnson’s velocity is increasing, too — his fastball averaged 94 mph against the Orioles on Sunday, according to the PitchFx data on Brooksbaseball.net., up from 93 his previous two starts.

Mets fans went gaga over right-hander Zack Wheeler’s first start, in which he pitched six shutout innings against the Braves. A scout in attendance, however, noted that Wheeler threw only 53.9 percent of his pitches for strikes.

“He can strike out hitters with his fastball,” the scout said. “But as far as having command of his pitches, especially his secondary pitches, I don’t think he’s ready.”

Wheeler’s next start is against White Sox lefty Chris Sale in Chicago on Tuesday night.

• Think maybe the Angels should have kept righty Jordan Walden, the reliever they traded for righty Tommy Hanson — or at least, used Walden in another deal?

Walden, 25, has been a revelation for the Braves, striking out 26 and walking only four in 23 1/3 innings. Hanson, meanwhile, has a 5.10 ERA in nine starts.

“That was a steal,” one rival executive says.

• Remember Shane Spencer? He played a role in the Angels’ recent signing of outfielder Luis Montanez to a minor league contract.

Montanez, the third overall pick by the Cubs in the 2000 draft, was playing for Somerset in the Atlantic League. Spencer was his hitting coach. And Tim Schmidt, a special-assignment scout for the Angels, goes way back with Spencer.

Schmidt said that Spencer, the Yankees’ 28th-round pick in 1990, was the first player that he drafted and signed as a scout.

• Attention, NL All-Star manager Bruce Bochy: Left-hander Rex Brothers, who recently replaced the injured Rafael Betancourt as the Rockies closer, keeps putting up ridiculous numbers.

Brothers, 25, has gone 29 innings and 31 appearances since allowing his only run of the season on April 6. Opponents are batting .189 against him with a .516 OPS.

Tagged: Orioles, Angels, Indians, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Astros, Mets, Cardinals, Padres, Rockies, Marlins, Jason Marquis, Jerome Williams, Ian Kinsler, Josh Johnson, Matt Garza, Jordan Walden, Tommy Hanson, Bud Norris

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