Napoli’s return alters expected roles for some young Rangers
SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) Jurickson Profar is pretty much off first base for now with the Texas Rangers. So are young slugger Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua.
The team’s reunion with slugger Mike Napoli has changed the outlook this season for those young players. It also will likely mean veteran Shin-Soo Choo spending more time as the designated hitter than in the outfield after being plagued by injuries in 2016.
Profar, who turned 24 on Monday, made starts at five different positions last season – six, when including designated hitter. His 13 starts at first base came after a quick in-season tutorial on the position. He could now be a starting left fielder, or a super utility player again.
”I practice all positions,” Profar said. ”I’m ready for all.”
After Gold Glove-winning first baseman Mitch Moreland left in free agency for Boston, the Rangers initially looked at the possibility of Profar and Rua, who also split time last season between first base and left field, doing that more often in 2017. And Gallo, a third baseman, spent the offseason working out at first base.
”For a second, I thought I had a shot at playing first base this spring and battling for the position,” said Gallo, who may now instead be headed back to Triple-A. ”I was working all offseason at first base. … I have no problem playing third base. I’ve played there my whole life.”
The only issue with that is the Rangers have veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre, who won another Gold Glove last season.
When Napoli officially rejoined the Rangers for a third time last week, manager Jeff Banister said he planned to use the slugger as his primary first baseman with a few games as the designated hitter.
Profar started at least 10 games at every infield spot last season, along with his eight starts in left field.
”The thing that he offers that others may not offer is he can go to shortstop and play extremely well,” Banister said. ”He’s a shortstop. He can go to third base and play extremely well. He can go to second base and play that extremely well. He can go to first base and play well.”
After making his major league debut with a homer in his first at-bat at age 19 in September 2012, Profar split 2013 between the Rangers and Triple-A Round Rock. He was then all set to become the everyday second baseman before shoulder issues forced him to miss the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Profar rejoined the team last May, his first MLB games since September 2013, and hit .239 over 90 games.
”Last year was just to show everybody that I was healthy,” Profar said. ”This year I’m raring to go, to play 162.”
With right fielder Choo on the disabled list four times last season, rookie Nomar Mazara emerged as the everyday right fielder and hit .266 with 20 homers in 145 games.
Mazara might have moved to left this season, but with Profar and Rua back in the mix there, that may keep Mazara in right and let the Rangers use Choo more often as at the DH though that is not the veteran’s preference.
”I’m not thinking about that situation,” Choo said. ”We’re just started spring training. We’ll figure it out. I have always wanted what the team wants. That is what I play for.”
The Rangers view the DH role as a way to keep Choo healthy and at the top of the lineup.
”We need Choo in that lineup on an everyday basic,” Banister said. ”There were times last year as good as we were when he was not in there, we missed him.”