Rangers' Futures Game duo ready to shine
Lefty Perez on road to Arlington, with SS Profar not far behind
PHOENIX -- The Double-A Frisco Roughriders play in a stadium about 40 minutes north of the Ballpark in Arlington."Forty minutes if there is traffic," Frisco pitcher Martin Perez said. "It's 25 if there is no traffic." Perez knows. When the schedules align and he gets a chance, he likes to go to Arlington and watch the Rangers play. But then he has to drive back to Frisco and put on the Roughriders' uniform again. His time is coming but it's not there yet. "When I get there, I want to stay there," Perez said. "I want to stay there a long time, help the team ... win the World Series. But first I need to throw strikes and do what they say."
He has this season, and that's why he was in Phoenix on Sunday afternoon. Shortstop Jurickson Profar, another Rangers prospect, was sitting one locker over in the World team's clubhouse, and the two were chatting and joking around before the XM Futures All-Star Game at Chase Field."I'm excited and happy to be here," Profar said. "I'm ready to play. This is a great opportunity for me to show everybody that I can play the game." He did just that with an RBI triple that gave the World a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth. He also fouled out in the ninth as the U.S. rallied for a 6-4 victory. Perez pitched the fourth inning and allowed a run on two hits. He walked one and struck out one. Profar, 18, was the youngest player selected. He is four months younger than Bryce Harper, the Nationals' uber-prospect, who is next on the list. Of the 49 players in Phoenix, only nine were younger than Perez, who is 20. Perez could have been in the Futures Game last year but had to deal with a back injury. This season, he is healthy and driving fast again on the road to Arlington. He is 4-2 in 16 starts and one relief appearance with a 3.16 ERA that ranks fourth in the Double-A Texas League. He is second in strikeouts and has the fifth-best walks/hits-per-innings-pitched ratio in the league. "Last year, I hurt my back, and now I feel good," Perez said. "I'm throwing more strikes and have more control. Last year, everything was strikeout, strikeout, strikeout. Now I'm pitching more to contact and controlling the corners." He appeared overmatched in the Texas League at age 19. He was 5-8 with a 5.96 ERA in 23 starts and one relief appearance. He averaged 10.5 hits, 4.5 walks and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings while being the youngest player in the league. His strikeout ratio is down slightly this season to 8.5 per nine innings. But the other two ratios are down significantly. He is allowing 8.2 hits and 3.6 walks per nine innings and right now he is still the second-youngest player in the league. "He's made a great turnaround from last year," Frisco manager Steve Buechele said. "To me, the biggest thing is he has controlled innings. You can break it down to better command of his fastball, better command of his curveball or ability to throw his changeup for strikes. It's all part of the growing up process, but I don't think up until now he has given up a big inning. That's a sign of his maturation." Perez is reaching the point where it's no longer a question of if he'll pitch in the big leagues but when. There were times in past seasons when he might have already been in Arlington. Derek Holland certainly had less time in the Minor Leagues than Perez. "There is still some refining to do, but he has certainly closed the gap," Buechele said. "He has had some games where he had the stuff to win in the big leagues." Profar is still a couple of years away from Arlington, but the possibility is emerging that he is coming fast. Despite being the youngest player in the South Atlantic League, he is hitting .270 with a .380 on-base percentage and a .488 slugging percentage. That's pretty decent clout for an 18-year-old shortstop who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds. Harper, who was just promoted to Double-A from the South Atlantic League, is considered possibly the best hitting prospect in all the Minor Leagues. He left the South Atlantic hitting .318 with a .423 on-base percentage and a .554 slugging percentage. Harper had 258 at-bats, 32 extra-base hits and 44 walks. Profar, with 256 at-bats, has 34 extra-base hits and 40 walks. He doesn't have Harper's sheer power -- who does -- but Profar has 20 doubles, he is second in the league with six triples and his eight home runs are second among middle infielders. The 40 walks are tied for 10th in the league. "His offense is getting better and better," said A.J. Preller, the Rangers' Director of Player Personnel. "He has more power and a better feel for the strike zone." But the numbers aren't what scouts talk about when Profar is brought up. They talk more about his pure instincts for the game and the leadership that he has shown on a team that won the first half Northern Division title. "He is a very instinctive player," Preller said. "He has a great feel for the game." He also has a feel for where he stands in the organization. He knows he is still a couple of years away, and he knows that Elvis Andrus is manning the shortstop position in Arlington. "I don't worry about that," Profar said. "Everybody has a job to do. I have a job to do. I'm just working on everything and trying to be consistent."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.