Breaking Down the Jurickson Profar Trade (Fantasy Baseball)
Now that NFL Wild Card Weekend is over and Bears heartbreak is in full force (sorry Mike Tagliere), we can continue our hard-hitting coverage of a terribly slow MLB offseason. This time, three teams swapped some assets, as the Rangers traded Jurickson Profar to the Athletics for international money. Emilio Pagan is headed from Oakland to Tampa Bay, and a bunch of minor leaguers were swapped between the three teams. We will focus on Profar, who transformed into a fantasy asset in 2018.
Profar had been in and out of the major league scene since 2012, but he’s still just entering his age-26 season. He had always raked in the minors, regularly posting wRC+ lines above 115 at each minor league stop. He had a tough time in the majors in both 2016 and 2017, largely due to posting ISOs below .100 each year. His 2016 batted-ball profile illustrates why he did not fare well (52% ground-ball rate, and just a 19% line-drive rate). His batted-ball profile changed drastically in 2017 (25% LD rate, 41% GB rate), but his overall numbers were suppressed due to a very unlucky sub-.230 BABIP.
So, what went right with Profar in 2018? FanGraphs typically knows.
- While his walk rate dipped, it was still a respectable 9.1%
- He struck out just 14.8% of the time.
- His ISO also climbed to .204. It increased due to two factors that are pretty typical of big league hitters nowadays. He started pulling the ball more (increased 7.2% to 39.8% in 2018), and he started hitting the ball much harder (up 11.3% to 37.3% in 2018). Even with the higher pull percentage, he still hit better against the shift (.301 average vs .254 non-shift).
Consequently, he had 20 homers (a career high) and 77 RBI. All this and his BABIP was still .269! Profar regularly posted .300+ BABIPs in the minors, so it seems that he is simply getting unlucky in that department. There is a case to make that since his O-Swing% is above the league average (32.9% last year, average is 30%), the BABIP may be justified because he is swinging at poor pitches. However, it likely is an issue of luck, meaning that Profar’s stat line could improve.
He now moves from the hitter-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington to the Coliseum, one of the worst parks to hit in. This is bad, bad news. This is essentially a first-to-worst situation, the opposite of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 2013 Boston Red Sox, the ’69 Mets. I think you get the picture, even if it’s not on the same magnitude. Not only that, but the Athletics hardly ran in 2018, posting an MLB-worst 35 steals. This makes sense given that whole Moneyball thing. The Rangers ranked in the middle of the pack, and he only stole 10 bases last year. You should expect a drop in steals, especially if he hits near the top of the order.
Although it’s not clear where he will fall in the lineup, he will be hitting in a substantially better lineup. The Athletics boast big boppers Matt Olson and Khris Davis, and they also have other above-average hitters in Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, and Stephen Piscotty. Yet I see the move to Oakland as an overall negative, as the better lineup does not mitigate the drastic change in home parks. Steamer seems to agree with me, as they have him projected to hit 16 homers with a slight drop in RBI, runs, and steals. They also project a slight BABIP increase to .282, which is just below the league average of .300.
Available at every offensive position except catcher, Profar has tremendous position eligibility in 2019. He’s a Swiss Army knife, 2018’s version of the good Marwin Gonzalez. In our very early-season rankings, he is going exactly 200 spots ahead of Gonzalez. Much of this is because Gonzalez has not signed with a team yet, and the uncertainty surrounding his playing time is holding his draft stock back. This shows how the fantasy community values Profar’s breakout as legitimate.
Even with Profar’s 2018 breakout, he probably is not your starting second baseman or shortstop in standard leagues. He is ranked in the high teens or early 20s at each eligible infield position. Given that he is near the top 100 in hitters and will be drafted in the 12th or 13th round, you’ll have to treat him as a starter in your utility spot. He is currently going around names like Dallas Keuchel, Ian Desmond, Nick Pivetta, Carlos Santana, and Billy Hamilton. I would prefer him over Hamilton, as he can contribute in three-four categories well. I would prefer Pivetta (upside), Santana (floor), and Desmond (Coors) over Profar at this point. You can get his double-play mate 30 picks later, and Semien is slated to go for more homers and steals than Profar. If Profar drops past the 14th round, scoop him up. He has the potential to produce numbers like Semien, but you don’t want to bite more than you have to chew.
With Profar gone, Ronald Guzman (a top-10 Rangers prospect) and Patrick Wisdom figure to slot in at first and third base, respectively, for the Rangers. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts has Guzman producing Profar-esque numbers, as he is expected to hit 20 dingers with 70 RBI. The difference between him and Profar is that he walks less, strikes out more, and doesn’t run much. Guzman could conceivably outproduce Profar this year, given his 60-grade raw power. Even with these projections, the fantasy experts aren’t buying in, as he is barely ranked in the top 400. He’s someone to keep an eye on in AL-only, dynasty, and deeper leagues (at least 14 teams or a ton of roster spots).
Wisdom is a 27-year-old who has been with the Cardinals since 2012. He had a huge 2017 at Triple-A, hitting 31 bombs and driving in 89 runs. He had a cup of coffee with the Cards in 2018, hitting four homers in 32 at-bats with a .260/.362/.520 slash line. His 32% K rate will need to drop drastically for him to have real success in the majors. He has been a high strikeout guy his entire career, so don’t expect that to change. Like Guzman, Wisdom should only be a factor in AL-only and deeper leagues.