Prospect Smackdown: Battle of the Shortstops, Manny Machado vs. Jurickson Profar

Baltimore Orioles shortstop prospect Manny Machado (left) and Texas Rangers shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar (right). (Photos by Jeff Gross [Machado] and Christian Petersen [Profar], courtesy Getty Images)

Prospect Smackdown: Manny Machado vs. Jurickson Profar

Two elite shortstops make a great topic for a Prospect Smackdown. Let's take a look at Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles and Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers.


BACKGROUND

Manny Machado: Manny Machado was considered by most analysts to be the best position player available in the 2010 draft, in the Non-Bryce Harper Category. Drafted third overall and signed for $5,250,000, Machado is of Dominican descent but played high school ball in Hialeah, Florida. His makeup is well-regarded and he thrived under pressure on the showcase and championship circuits as an amateur.

Jurickson Profar: Jurickson Profar was noticed by scouts when he was 11 years old and starring for Curacao in the Little League World Series. Many clubs preferred him as a pitcher, but the Rangers felt he could hit and signed him as a free agent in 2009 for $1,550,000. His makeup is exceptional and he proved himself under pressure when he was very young.

Comparison: Both players were noticed when very young and proved themselves on a big stage. Machado got a bigger bonus, but Profar would have been an early first-round pick as well if he had been draft-eligible. Profar has a great human interest story (he is fluent in English, Dutch, Spanish, and Papiemento) and plays with energy, flair, and confidence, but there's nothing wrong with Machado.

TOOLS, PHYSICALITY, AND HEALTH

Machado: Machado is a 6-3, 185 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born July 6, 1992. He's still growing and filling out and it is easy to visualize him getting to 6-4, 210, possibly outgrowing shortstop as he matures. Right now he still has the range for the position and a strong throwing arm, and in the short run at least he can remain up the middle, although third base might be his destination in the long run. His weakest tool is average running speed. His power potential is rated as above-average, scouts love his overall hitting skills, and he shows solid plate discipline and contact ability. His biggest problem in 2011 was staying healthy: he dislocated his left kneecap in early May, missed a month, and didn't play with the same explosiveness on his return, looking a bit tentative on defense and pressing with the bat, especially late in the year in High-A. This is not expected to be a long-term issue and scouts remain very high on him.

Profar:
Profar is a 6-0, 170 pound switch-hitter and right-handed thrower, born February 20, 1993. Although not big or physically imposing, he is an excellent athlete with a strong throwing arm (as befits a former pitcher). He has the range, hands, and arm strength to be a superior defensive shortstop as he matures, and he has enough athleticism and arm strength to switch to second or third base if needed, given the presence of Elvis Andrus in Texas. His running speed is a tick above average, but he's an aggressive baserunner. Despite his lack of size, Profar has surprising pop in his bat due to his bat speed. His plate discipline is excellent for his age and he doesn't strike out much either. He's had no major injuries.

Comparison:
They are quite different physically. Machado looks like he'll grow into a significant slugger, while Profar relies more on lithe quickness. Both have the tools to handle shortstop, although Machado is a bigger risk to physically outgrow the position. Machado has solid plate discipline for his age and more raw power, but Profar (despite being younger) is a more patient and polished hitter at this point and has good pop in his bat as well. Neither will steal a ton of bases at higher levels, although Profar will steal more. Overall I prefer Profar's package of tools to Machado's, but that should be regarded as high praise for Profar, not a slam on Machado, who is certainly elite.

PERFORMANCE

Machado: Machado began 2011 with Low-A Delmarva in the South Atlantic League, hitting .276/.376/.483 in 38 games with a 23/25 BB/K ratio in 145 at-bats. Promoted to High-A Frederick in the Carolina League, he hit .245/.308/.384 in 63 games with a 22/48 BB/K in 237 at-bats. This included a hot July steak (.317/.387/.488 in 22 games) but he hit poorly in August and September and he may not have been 100% physically. Overall he hit .261/.337/.426 last year with a 48/76 BB/K ratio in 418 at-bats, with 12 homers and 11 steals in 17 attempts. This wasn't exceptional, but at age 18/19 in full-season A-ball, his performance was quite credible.

Profar:
Profar spent the entire season with Hickory in the Low-A Sally League, hitting .286/.390/.493 with 37 doubles, 12 homers, 65 walks, and just 63 strikeouts in 430 at-bats. He stole 23 bases in 29 attempts, and was especially hot late in the year, hitting .302/.402/.495 in the second half of the season. This was very impressive for an 18-year-old, and his excellent BB/K ratio augers well for his future.

Comparison:
Machado hit .276/.376/.483 in the Sally League (granted it was just 38 games) while Profar hit a slightly stronger .286/.390/.493 at the same level in a full season of play despite being seven months younger. Despite his late slump, Machado deserves credit for holding his own after moving up to High-A, and I think he was rushed to the level. We don't know how what Machado's final numbers would have looked like if he had remained at Delmarva. Overall this is either a wash or a slight edge to Profar.

PROJECTION

Machado: Scouts dream on Machado becoming an Alex Rodriguez-type player, combining power, batting average, plate discipline, and sound defense at either shortstop or third base.

Profar:
As good as he is, there is actually some disagreement about the kind of player that Profar could become. If you believe in his power potential, you could see him as a Hanley Ramirez type. Another possibility would be Jose Reyes with fewer steals.

Comparison:
Both project as All-Stars, albeit different flavors of All-Star.

SUMMARY

In my opinion, Profar and Machado are the two best shortstop prospects in baseball and I rate both as Grade A prospects. If I had to pick one, I'd pick Profar since he is several months younger but actually a bit more polished with the bat, plus I think he has a better chance to stick at shortstop. Either way, both should be excellent players.

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