Over the weekend the Colorado Rockies once again dipped into the well of free agency to replace an injured player, this time signing Jurickson Profar to a one-year deal and giving him the opportunity to be the everyday left fielder and potential leadoff man. So, as is always the case with signing a veteran free agent, what exactly can he bring to the table for the Rockies in 2023?
Road to the Rockies
First, let’s look back on Profar’s big-league career, as was recorded in our original article about the news.
Originally signed out of Curaçao by the Texas Rangers in 2009, Profar made his debut with Texas in 2012 at the age of 19. Playing a limited role in parts of four seasons over the next seven years — thanks to shoulder injuries that sidelined him in 2014 and 2015 — Profar finally had a break-out season in 2018. In 146 games that season, he slashed .254/.335/.458 with 20 home runs and 77 RBI.
That offseason he was traded to the Oakland Athletics for the 2019 season where he struggled to a .218/.301/.410 slash line but once again managed 20 home runs and 67 RBI in 139 games. Following the season Profar was again traded, this time to the San Diego Padres.
Profar spent the next three seasons in San Diego batting .244/.333/.375 with 26 home runs and 116 RBI in 345 games. During the 2022 season, Profar ended up batting .243/.331./391 with 15 home runs, the most he has hit since the 2019 season. After signing a multi-year deal with the Padres prior to the 2021 season, going into the 2022-23 offseason, he had just one year remaining on his deal, valued at $7.5 million, and instead chose to opt out for a $1 million buyout.
So, after lingering on the market for months, Profar looks to find some success in Colorado and prove he can continue to be consistently valuable both offensively and defensively.
A Profar-lific hitter
While he isn’t going to make or break the Rockies’ lineup, at a glance Profar provides an adequate boost to the overall lineup construction. A switch-hitter with modest power and high-quality bat-to-ball skills are useful attributes for an aspiring leadoff man. For his career, Profar has a 16.2% strikeout rate to go along with a 9.8% walk rate. Those numbers have been fairly consistent since 2016, showing a model of consistency that doesn’t get overly streaky and problematic over long stretches.
In terms of his plate discipline, Profar is a patient hitter, ever seeking the right pitch to hit. Over the course of his career, he has an 82.9% contact rate while also swinging at 28.5% of pitches outside of the zone. When he does swing at pitches out of the zone, Profar has managed a contact rate of 71.8% which isn’t too far off from his 88.7% contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone. This patience is also exemplified by a 58.4% first-pitch strike rate and only a 7.6% swinging strike rate. So, he’s going to watch pitches that can be both good and bad depending on the situations he finds himself in, but still, patience and a selective approach are fundamentals the Rockies are looking to improve upon.
So what about when he hits the ball? Over his career, Profar has trended toward ground balls with an even split between line drives and fly balls. Last season, Profar record a 43.9% ground ball rate, a number that falls in line with his career rate of 44.2%. So while Profar is selective at the plate, more often than not that contact is resulting in a grounder, which has a 50/50 chance of being good or bad. Since 2018, Profar has worked on lifting the ball more, averaging a fly ball roughly 20% of the time which helped him have 20 home run campaigns in 2018 and 2019, and 15 in 2022.
However, Profar doesn’t necessarily hit the ball quite as hard career-wise as he holds a 31% hard-hit rate and a barrel rate of 4.1%. He has an average launch angle of 12.4 degrees which fits into the range for home runs, and a promising return from 2022 was that he did have the highest total of hard-hit balls so there is potential for him to run into a few at Coors Field.
Now, there is the prospect of him being the leadoff hitter for the Rockies, and looking at his numbers, it’s not a bad fit. Profar has spent 144 games of his career as the first batter in the lineup, batting .256/.321/.402 with 147 hits including, 33 doubles, three triples, 15 home runs while also driving in 47 runs while scoring 85. In 2022 alone he batted .262/.333/.412 with 25 doubles and nine home runs. So, a spot the Rockies have struggled to find the right fit for many finally be solved for the 2023 season at least.
As for the impact of the shift, Profar will likely see some more success from the left side. under the new rules. He saw a shift 64% of the time as a left-handed batter but managed a wOBA of .345 without the shift and a .301 with the shift. So, without the extreme shift on either side of the field, Profar may see more of those ground balls and liners turn into base hits.
Profar will provide a patient leadoff man who doesn’t strike out too much and has a career line of .238/.322/.386 with 78 home runs, 313 RBI, 94 OPS+, and a 94 wRC+. According to the ZiPS projection, Profar could bat .233/.324/.374 with 13 home runs in 2023.
So we have an idea of what he might be able to do offensively for the Rockies, but what about defensively?
Profar was brought up as a middle infielder in the early days. He has played around the diamond in his career, but nowadays he is primarily a left fielder, a spot the Padres left him in for the 2022 season. It was likely a wise move as Profar suffered from a case of the “yips” in 2019 with Oakland when he recorded 11 throwing errors as a second baseman.
Left field has been kinder to Profar and he should provide a solid glove to patrol the grass at Coors Field. In 2,033 innings in left, Profar has been awarded 10 Defensive Runs Saved in his career, including the two for the 2022 season. He also has an Ultimate Zone Rating of 1.1 which shows that he has an overall positive with his arm and range, or at least slightly better than average. However, FanGraphs is somewhat less generous according to his Outs Above Average where he has a -3, including the -5 registered last season.
All in all, Profar should be a slight improvement overall, but still has the tall task of covering left field at Coors Field, a position that Kris Bryant found difficult and referred to as a “cemetery,” but we can look forward to him trying to tackle that challenge.
In terms of placeholders for a team in the Rockies position, Profar could have more upside than we think. Spring training has proven that some of the prospects that could play left field aren’t quite ready for regular playing time at the big league level, so this gives them time to develop in the minors. Should Profar perform well, the Rockies could hopefully flip him at the deadline, opening the way for those prospects to get the playing time down the stretch.
Until then, we can just hope that this signing doesn’t backfire and result in yet another grossly underperforming veteran.
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Ty Blach once again finds himself battling for a roster spot, but this time he is doing so after an offseason of studying how his pitches worked at altitude. The results appear to be working as he is having a strong spring training and could find himself once again working out of the bullpen come Opening Day.
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