To say that Jurickson Profar’s career has been inconsistent would be an understatement. After being signed by the Rangers as an international free agent out of Curacao, he was incredibly impressive in the minors, shooting up to the big leagues, making his MLB debut at the age of 19 towards the end of the 2012 season, hitting a home run in his first major league at-bat and topping prospect lists going into 2013.
In 2013, Profar had a mediocre showing in 85 games, hitting just .234/.308/.336, 75 wRC+. That might have been disappointing based on his prospect hype, but it was certainly understandable given that he was still just 20 years old. Unfortunately, shoulder injuries led to multiple surgeries which wiped out both his 2014 and 2015 seasons. In 2016 and 2017, he was finally healthy but struggled in sporadic MLB playing time. Despite success in the minors, he hit just .227/.316/.315 in 112 games over those two campaigns, producing a wRC+ of 67.
In 2018, he finally got a good stretch of playing time in the big leagues, getting into 146 games after never previously getting above 90. That regularity seemed to do him good, as he hit .254/.335/.458 for a wRC+ of 107, or 7% better than league average. He also stole ten bases and added defensive versatility, lining up at each infield position along with a brief cameo in left field. On the whole, he was worth 1.9 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs.
After being traded to Oakland, his pendulum swung the other way, as he made 11 throwing errors from second base and slumped at the plate to a line of .218/.301/.410, 90 wRC+. The A’s traded him away after that lone season, with the Padres on the receiving end. A.J. Preller, who was with the Rangers when Profar was first signed, had by then become the general manager in San Diego.
Despite Profar’s mercurial career, Preller evidently still believed in the former top prospect, which worked out in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Profar played 56 games in the 60-game season and got his batting line above average again, hitting .278/.343/.438. That amounted to a wRC+ of 112, to which he added seven steals and solid defense in left field (although not as solid elsewhere), accumulating 1.2 fWAR in that short span.
Although that was a small sample, it seemed to reaffirm Preller’s feeling about Profar, as the club re-signed him in free agency that winter. Much like Profar’s career, the deal was a bit unusual, as it was a three-year, $21MM contract that afforded Profar an opt-out after each season. That was quite a nice coup for him, as it gave him the upside of being able to return to free agency if he were to continue on a positive path, but give him some security in the event that he had another setback.
At this point, you can probably guess that his Jekyll-and-Hyde act was not over. In 2021, the first year of that deal, he had yet another down year, hitting .227/.329/.320 for a wRC+ of just 85. At the end of the campaign, he had the ability to opt out of the two years and $14MM remaining on his deal but unsurprisingly decided to stay after that tepid season.
Here in 2022, the Padres have played 47 games, just over 29% of the season. How is Profar doing now? Following the script perfectly, he is good again, hitting .222/.332/.401, with six homers and four steals. His wRC+ is at 114 and he began today’s action with 1.2 fWAR.
There’s still a lot of season left to change the picture here, and it’s obvious that Profar is not immune from quick narrative reversals, but it’s starting to seem as though he could be lining himself up to opt out of the final year of his contract. He will be deciding between a $7.5MM player option for 2023 or a $1MM buyout. (There’s also a $10MM mutual option for 2024 with another $1MM buyout.) If he were to take the buyout, he would only need to find $6.5MM in free agency to break even.
For a player as unpredictable as Profar, there would certainly be reasons for teams to stay away from him. But there are also reasons to dive in. Despite all those twists and turns in his career, he’s still only 29 years old and won’t turn 30 until February. Even in those down years, he’s always shown good plate discipline. From 2018 to the present, he has a 10.1% walk rate and 14.8% strikeout rate. For context, the league wide averages this year are currently at 8.5% and 22.4%, meaning he’s better than average in both cases. This year, he’s gotten his rates even at 14.1%, prior to today’s game.
Despite some shaky defense in the past when he was bouncing all over the diamond, he seems to have settled into a nice home in left field, having played nowhere else this season. 2020 was his first significant time in left, logging 282 1/3 innings, followed by 257 1/3 last year and 367 this year, going into today’s game. Over those three seasons, his Defensive Runs Saved went from 3 in 2020, to 1 last and 7 this year. His Ultimate Zone Rating went from 2.0 to -0.9 to 2.4. Outs Above Average goes from 0 to -2 to 0.
Although it’s difficult to tell who the real Profar is, it seems plausible that he could get more than $6.5MM in free agency, given his relative youth and inherent athleticism. Even in a down year, he can still take walks, steal a few bases, hit a few homers and can likely provide average corner outfield defense. One would imagine his agent Scott Boras will likely be making that argument, based on his reputation. It may not be a bad argument either. Then again, if anyone can completely change the calculus in a hurry, it’s Profar.