January 30, 2014
Tale of the Tape
Jurickson Profar vs. Anthony Rendon
For the second-base edition of “Tale of the Tape,” I was given a choice between Jason Kipnis vs. Dustin Pedroia, Neil Walker vs. Martin Prado, and Anthony Rendon vs. Jurickson Profar. As the title gives away, I chose set no. 3, Rendon and Profar—a pair of former no. 1 prospects with All-Star potential. More than two years separate the second basemen in age, but both will enter the year ready to compete in their first full major-league seasons. In BP’s positional rankings, Craig Goldstein lists Rendon at the back end of the three-star tier and Profar checks in a few keystones later inside the two-star group. Can the two-star player outshine the three-star favorite?
To this point in their brief careers, Rendon and Profar have combined for fewer than 750 plate appearances, so small-sample-size goggles are required. As things stand, Rendon enjoys a comfortable .265-to-.231 lead, but Profar’s major-league clock also extends to a brief nine-game stint in 2012, when he struggled and hit .176. For what it’s worth, Profar out-hit Rendon with a .276 BA in four minor-league seasons, compared to Rendon’s .269 in two. We have obviously yet to see either player reach his full potential, but both have been graded with the tools to one day hit .300. Profar hasn’t adjusted as well to big-league pitching as Rendon, however, striking out 19.6 percent of the time (compared to about14 percent in the minors); Rendon’s strikeout rate is a cleaner 17.5 percent. And while both have fantastic contact rates, Rendon appears poised to hit for a better average in 2014. For Profar, the new season should help shed some light on his chances of fulfilling a grade-7 hit tool.
Neither middle infielder has been particularly patient, both failing to top an eight percent walk rate at the big-league level. In other words, they’ve been league average. Rendon reached base at a .329 clip last season, compared to .308 for Profar. In the minors, Rendon reached base at an impressive .408 clip in two seasons, including a very strong 16.9 percent walk rate. His track record across four levels on the farm is good reason to trust his on-base skills at the next level. Plus, he’s always been lauded for his excellent pitch-recognition skills on scouting reports. On the flip side, while Profar’s minor-league numbers aren’t as pronounced, he’s also been praised for a strong awareness of the strike zone. He’s chased 6.5 percent more balls outside of the strike zone than Rendon, however, so I’m giving the slight edge to the National Leaguer.
Advantage: slightly to Rendon
If you took one look at Rendon and Profar, you’d probably guess that the former packed more punch. Both second basemen are listed at exactly six feet, but the National has 30 pounds on the Ranger (195 to 165). Profar and Rendon have equally smacked seven long balls at the major-league level, but the former has done so in 48 fewer at-bats. Both were graded with 5+ power tools, so the difference between the two is very small. Texas is the preferred park for power, whereas Nationals Park plays fairly neutral for right-handed hitters. Looking at their batted ball distances from a year ago, Rendon easily outslugged Profar, leading 276.96 (no. 182) to 260.83 (no. 271). Profar does have better minor-league power numbers, for what it’s worth, but neither player can claim a HR/FB rate of greater than 8.5 percent. This debate sure is confusing, and you can go back and forth all day. Rendon’s 2014 will be telling—can he start turning doubles into home runs? I think both can approach 13-15 dingers, but neither has gained a distinct advantage.
Runs Batted In
Last season, the Rangers were the far superior team in terms of wOBA, finishing ninth to the Nationals’ league-average finish of 17. Texas has since added Shin Soo-Choo and Prince Fielder, giving Texas one of the—if not the—most formidable offenses in baseball. Washington ranked in the middle of the pack in the National League a year ago, and their pieces remain—for the most part—unchanged. Both Profar and Rendon are projected to hit in the bottom halves of their respected lineups, hurting their chances for additional run production. I’m giving Rendon the upper hand to out-produce Profar, however, based on the upside of Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos—I’m not totally sold on Mitch Moreland or Geovany Soto in Texas. It’s not a landslide, but Rendon could see a few more cookies batting in front of the pitcher and the chance of him moving up in the order is greater in my opinion. I would be pleasantly surprised if either touched 70, but Rendon is my first choice to get there. A safer number for Profar is 60.
With the additions of Choo and Fielder, it’s hard to pick apart the Rangers’ lineup—they arguably have the strongest one-through-nine in baseball. Profar, unfortunately, won’t be spending his time batting in front of the team’s offensive meat in Fielder, Adrian Beltre, and Alex Rios (that privilege will go to Choo and Elvis Andrus); instead, he’ll likely bat eighth behind Moreland and Soto. Batting second, Profar could approach 90 runs in this offense, but, as is, I have a hard time seeing more than 70—and even that’s optimistic. Like Profar, Rendon is most likely ticketed for the bottom half of the Nationals’ lineup. Washington employs a strong upper half, which includes Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, but the bottom half is less imposing. Unless Rendon graduates to a higher spot in the order, I see a similar problem to Profar’s—but in the NL, it’s magnified with a pitcher batting ninth. Where you hit isn’t everything, but Texas, which recorded 730 runs a year ago, should be among the league’s best offenses again. Washington was further down the list with 656 runs.
This statistical category is without question the easiest call to make. In four minor league seasons, Profar has 53 steals in 70 attempts, while slow-footed Rendon—in three seasons—has seven in eight attempts. Despite the win, Profar was unimpressive on the base paths in Texas, going 2-for-6 for Ron Washington’s club. With seasons of 23 and 16 in the minors, a safe projection for Profar is 10-13 steals. It’s easy to make comparisons to teammate and fellow middle infielder Elvis Andrus, who has averaged 33 steals per season since his debut, but he was a far more accomplished base stealer in the minors, with 54 steals in 2008 alone. Profar will need to earn Washington’s trust before he’s turned loose. We probably won’t see him approaching much more than 15 steals, as the number of opportunities to run at the bottom of the lineup are lessened with fewer turns at the dish. Rendon will be lucky to steal a handful; that’s no longer his game.
I called Rendon “slow-footed” in the paragraph above, but that hasn’t always been the case. Before a nasty string of ankle injuries—three, to be exact—Rendon was considered an above-average runner. After suffering two (right) ankle injuries during his freshman and sophomore seasons in college, he fractured his left ankle just days into his first minor-league season and hasn’t been the same (base runner) since. All has been fine for Rendon at the big league level so far, but a murky medical record, which also includes shoulder problems, should weigh heavily into your long-term evaluation of him. Profar, meanwhile, was shut down during the 2012 Dominican Winter League with forearm inflammation, but it didn’t turn out to be anything serious and he’s missed little time since. It’s impossible to ignore Rendon’s history. Profar is by far the safer choice.
Both Profar and Rendon are set to play in their first full seasons. Ian Kinsler’s move to Detroit all but assures a full year of at-bats for Profar in Texas, and Danny Espinosa’s terrible 2013 gives Rendon wiggle room to work out any early-season kinks in Washington. New manager Matt Williams would be crazy not to give Rendon first crack at second base. Do the right thing, skip.
Because Rendon and Profar are still babies in the major-league scheme of things, neither has come close to fulfilling their potential at the highest level. Profar turns 21 in late February and—despite his slow start in Texas—he remains the better bet of the two to reach his gaudy ceiling. In his prime, the Rangers middle infielder could hit .300 while going 20/20, and there’s a chance he eventually does it at shortstop. Rendon isn’t far behind, but he enters 2014 more than two years older and—considering his injury history—he carries an additional risk that Profar does not. He too can hit .300, but he might soon be doing it at the hot corner with the expectation of Zimmerman moving to first base in short order. His power won’t play nearly as nicely at third, and Rendon is unlikely to ever contribute in five categories like Profar. But—it must be stressed—neither Profar nor Rendon is close to making his ceiling a reality.
Each player can claim stake to two offensive categories, but Rendon can claim one additional stat. I like him to contribute a healthier batting average, a slightly better on-base percentage and more RBIs, while Profar should get a check mark in the runs scored and stolen base columns. That leaves the intangibles, and Profar sweeps the board—he’s younger, he’s less injury prone and he has the higher ceiling. Accordingly, Ben Carsley ranked Profar and Rendon no. 4 and no. 5, respectively, in BP’s three-year projections released on Wednesday. I agree whole-heartedly, as Profar’s ceiling gives him the long-term edge over Rendon. For the upcoming season, the most recent NFBC ADP shows a clear preference for Profar, who is ranked no. 14 at second base with a 171.29 ADP; Rendon is no. 17 (224.68 ADP). It’s hard not to look at the Rangers’ lineup and feel all warm and tingly inside, I get it, but the Nationals’ lineup is no
cakewalk pie trot, either. Just by staying healthy, Rendon leaped a giant hurdle in 2013. We’ve already seen the risk Profar brings (.234 BA), so, for 2014, the route of Rendon is the way to go.
And the winner is… Rendon