The first (and only) copy of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook that I bought featured a young Jurickson Profar on its cover. Handsome, sporting a glitzy smile and a two-eared batting helmet, Profar made the cover because he was, by Baseball America’s estimate, the best prospect in the game. His bat was lauded, his glove was celebrated. He had all the proverbial tools, and each one of them was steel. Just 20, Profar topped a list of high-potential prospects that included Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole, Xander Bogaerts, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Christian Yelich, and Javier Baez in its top 20 alone. Going down the list is a who’s-who of major-leaguers every few names: Noah Syndergaard, Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado, George Springer, and Chris Archer are just a few. Profar ranked ahead of them all.
That same year, Matt Harvey began his first full campaign on the New York Mets. To that point, Harvey was still very much under the radar. The Mets weren’t recent or soon-to-be contenders, they had no exciting new free agents to trot out, and their last two players with notable accomplishments – 2011 batting title winner Jose Reyes and 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey – were off the team the season after their accomplishments. I saw Harvey pitch in early April against the San Diego Padres in a game that Collin Cowgill started in centerfield. He pitched seven masterful innings of one-hit ball while striking out 10 on a blustery night in Queens. It was an auspicious start to what would be a stellar campaign, one where Harvey would be an All-Star and finish fourth in Cy Young voting.
Baseball America’s handbook was released in February of 2013. Harvey shut down the Padres two months later. Capture that slice of time, and the rumor floated around at this season’s winter meetings becomes sensational: a one-for-one swap of a generational infielder and a dominant flame-thrower. But fill out the rest of the timeline, and the trade looks less marvelous. It starts taking on epithets like, “low-risk” and “change of scenery.” Because that’s the value left for the once-valuable pieces involved with it.
Maybe the player evaluations were too high on Jurickson Profar. Or maybe injuries to young 20-somethings are bad for development.
Either way, against expectations, it’s been a struggle for the Dutch international since his initial call up at the end of the 2012 season (where he hit a home run in his first at-bat). He lost all of 2014 and 2015 to shoulder injuries and other setbacks, and in the intervening years, Texas filled the middle-infield (one of which was Profar’s projected position) with the reliable Elvis Andrus and the excellent Rougned Odor. There were ups: Profar started 2016 strong, and last season was his best hitting season in the minors in a half-decade. But the downs have won the day in a snake-bitten career.
With the Rangers, he now projects to a corner outfield spot that may not even be available, and he has never recaptured the hitting form that led Baseball America to rate him a can’t-miss bat in their scouting shorthand. He has now maxed out his minor-league options in the Texas organization with no guarantee of an everyday (or any) roster spot. Profar himself was convinced his future lay outside the constant roundtrips between Round Rock and Arlington, and he was benched in early August for allegedly being upset he wasn’t dealt. Through all of this, doubts on his shoulder persist.
Like Profar, Matt Harvey’s value declined and then fell off the map in the wake of injuries. He missed all of 2014 following Tommy John surgery, and came back to a conflict between best rehab practices and jewelry. He pitched well in 2015, and was an integral part of a team that pushed farther than it was expected to. But many wondered if Harvey did the same.
Harvey lost 2016 to thoracic outlet surgery, and while dealing with more issues to 2017, he had an atrocious season in which he made it through six innings only four times in 18 starts, and all his performance numbers either dipped or ballooned, depending on what was worse for a given stat. His six appearances in September – after being out since June – wavered between cringe-worthy, unsettling to watch, and superfluous. His season’s end was merciful, but bleak: no place nor nostalgic ability had been re-discovered for the once-ace of an enviable slate of young pitching talent.
Two bad runs of health for two great talents turned what-if dreams into somber what-if accounting. As in, what if it’s over for these guys? What did we miss? At least at their first stops, where they were expected to lead title-starved fan-bases to sterling silver and gold-plated providence, what if it’s time to cut ties, if only to stymie the pejorative narrative around their every failure? So that Profar and Harvey can skip town with melancholy, and not the ire of massive disappointment?
Aside from being low-risk propositions for the two teams involved, for Profar and Harvey, what if there’s only value in swapping personal hell-scapes for each other’s dystopia?
Profar for Harvey probably won’t happen. Whether each player has a future where they are is up in the air. For the Rangers, they may not have a full-time spot for Profar, and would have to keep a bench spot open for him alone. For the Mets, Harvey’s trade-value is so far away from its peak (he was recently discussed in a trade for relief help), giving him one last arbitration season to earn another contract – or better trade return – doesn’t hurt. Beyond his turn in the rotation, anyway.
Profar is turning 25 this year, while Harvey is turning 29. The projections for Harvey are a bit less hopeful as a result: he’s approaching his age-peak with an injury-rich history that directly affects his greatest asset. Profar, meanwhile, has the benefit of being young by any other timeline but that of a well-regarded prospect. They share equal disappointments, but not equal value, and make poorly-matched assets as a result.
If (or when) both leave their primary organization, they’ll likely leave without the blockbuster glow, absent a groundswell of disagreement from loyal fans and especially loyal fans with an internet connection. Their trade or free agency stories will have lamentations on what they never were. Put up against each other in the arbitrary connectivity of a trade rumor, we get a bleak peek of what’s to come: cruelly, confirmation to each that their worth in baseball is well below what it might have been, verified by who they’re rumored to be traded for.Next post: BttP Podcast 70: Offseason Moves, Baseball Vocab, Favorite ’17 Moments, Gaming
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