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Profar ready to settle in at second base

Rangers' 20-year-old shifts from utility role in wake of Kinsler trade

ARLINGTON -- Second baseman Jurickson Profar is working out at Rangers Ballpark this week during the pitchers' minicamp. Texas also brought in a couple of Minor Leaguers infielders to keep him company.

Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor prevent Profar from getting lonely. The presence of two highly regarded prospects might be a subtle suggestion from the Rangers for Profar not to get too complacent as their new starting second baseman.

Sardinas, who ranks second, and Odor, who is fourth on Texas' Top 20 Prospects list, are also eager to make the Major Leagues and could come fast should Profar falter.

"I just have to play, concentrate on being me and help the team win," Profar said. "There is no pressure, I just have to focus on being me."

The Rangers don't expect Profar to struggle, even though he had a rough rookie season. They signaled their confidence in him when they traded second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Tigers for first baseman Prince Fielder. After a year as a utility player, Profar now has a clear shot at being an everyday player.

"We lost a good teammate, but it's something that's good for me," Profar said. "I have a position now."

Profar didn't have one last year. He had five. Profar was called up from Triple-A on May 19 after Kinsler went on the disabled list with a strained rib cage muscle and was sidelined for a month. Profar remained in the big leagues for the rest of the season and ended up starting 29 games at second, 10 at third, 16 at short and four in left field. He also started 16 games at designated hitter.

While Profar was bouncing around the field and the lineup, he spent the season trying to find himself at the plate. The search went unrewarded. Profar hit .234 in 286 at-bats, with 30 runs scored, 11 doubles, six home runs, 26 RBIs and two stolen bases. He had a .308 on-base percentage and a .336 slugging percentage.

Those are numbers put up by a functional utility player. The Rangers don't view Profar as that, not after playing in two All-Star Futures Games while in the Minor Leagues and winning a shelf full of neat awards, including the 2011 South Atlantic League Most Valuable Player Award.

"I'm not a guy who makes excuses," Profar said. "Last year was last year. Last year was a good experience. Now I know what I have to work on."

Profar said he needs to work on being patient and getting a good pitch to hit. But he didn't seem to be overeager in 2013. Profar averaged seeing 4.19 pitches per at-bat, the seventh-highest ratio by a rookie with at least 250 plate appearances (230 such players) in the American League over the past 20 years.

"He just needs to play baseball, stay healthy and get better," manager Ron Washington said.

Profar played winter ball in the Dominican Republic to get more at-bats and did show distinct improvement in his plate discipline by drawing 24 walks in 25 games. He hit .284 with a .439 on-base percentage that would have been the second highest in the league had Profar accumulated enough at-bats to qualify.

Profar also hit .295 with a .385 on-base percentage against left-handers. That was in only 50 plate appearances against them, but Profar, a switch-hitter, batted just .188 with a .291 on-base percentage against left-handers at the big league level last year.

Profar said he spent too much time last offseason working on his left-handed swing against right-handed pitching and neglected the other side of the plate. He is trying to rectify that this time around.

"Now I'm focused on both sides of the plate and both of my swings are feeling good," Profar said.

Spring Training will tell more. Profar will get plenty of work in the cages with hitting coach Dave Magadan and on his defense with Washington. The manager can be tough on his middle infielders, and Profar will likely get the same full-court press from Washington that Elvis Andrus received as a rookie in 2009.

Andrus responded by becoming an All-Star and the starting shortstop on two World Series teams. He has also fought off Profar's challenge for his job.

Now Profar will receive the same challenge at second base, and there are two young infielders right behind him if he's not up to it.

"I feel good," Profar said. "This is what I wanted, a chance to play every day. I have to continue to work hard and play."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.
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