Texas counting on young talent for postseason push
Unlike recent past, Rangers to rely heavily on rookies like Martin, Profar, Perez
ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Ron Washington draws parallels of a young baseball career to a blank canvas. There's plenty a rookie hasn't experienced at the start of his professional career despite the number of previous accolades he's received, but the canvas eventually becomes more than just an empty white image. It starts to have lines and detail that soon begin to shape an image, or a player.
Through the course of the season, Leonys Martin, Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez have slowly seen their blank canvas turn into a work in progress. But something that is lacking from all of their resumes is postseason games, which the rookies hope to taste as the Rangers push for a playoff spot this week.
"Whatever happens, it's experience," Washington said. "That's the only way you gain it is by being in it. You don't gain it because someone gives it to you. You gain it through trials and tribulations, and that's life. I wish there was a formula or a needle I could pass and hit somebody with, and there it is, all the experience I hit you with that you need. It don't work that way."
The club has rarely relied on rookies late in the regular season over the last four years -- with Mitch Moreland as the exception -- let alone three in a year. Yet Perez will start Wednesday against the Astros at Rangers Ballpark in essentially a must-win situation. And if the Rangers play a tiebreaker game Monday for the American League Wild Card, Perez will likely get the ball with a shot for Texas to make the postseason. Martin will likely be in the lineup the entire final week, and Profar will be one of the first options off the bench for Washington as a utility infielder.
"When you have a good team and good teammates around you, you go up there and it's easier than you think," Perez said on dealing with the late-season pressure. "That's happened to me. I got veteran players that have helped me a lot. When I go out there, it's easier for me, because I trust what I have and I feel 100 percent that I can pitch, and that's good. I don't have pressure on myself. I just want it to be natural. Don't think about the situation we're in now, just go out there and play the game and enjoy the game."
Perez's canvas displays a fairly successful completion to a season that started on the disabled list. The AL Rookie of the Month for August entered Wednesday's game 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA in 18 starts. He fractured a bone in his left forearm in Spring Training that kept him off the Opening Day roster in March, but he returned after injuries to Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando in the starting rotation.
"He proved that he's a Major League player, and I hope that there will be more gotten out of him as we continue now and going into next year," Washington said. "When you're a young kid and you're in the process of surviving -- which is what he is, and what Profar was doing is surviving -- this is their resume."
Profar's canvas has the most potential, but the work of art isn't exactly what the artist expected to this point. He joined the squad in May as the team's utility infielder and surprisingly has had the least impact this season out of the bunch. Profar, who was once one of the top prospects in baseball, expected more of himself this season, but he's embraced the lessons learned.
"I don't care about that," Profar said of his prospect rankings. "I just care about coming here and giving everything I got. It's an honor to be the No. 1 prospect, but it's nothing you want. You want to be here every day to do your best and help your teammates. We always expect to be in the playoffs, and to be in the hunt right now is nothing new. Every day we got to go out there and give 100 percent."
The switch-hitter is batting .232 this season, but he isn't using his youth as an excuse. The 20-year old played just 37 games with Triple-A Round Rock, all this year, before he was recalled. While Profar said he could improve in all aspects, he said he's working hard to be himself, a process that will continue to take shape.
"I don't think it's the pressure so much as it's just a challenging role at a young age," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "It's at a point in his development where it's a tough spot to be in. We thought he was the best guy to help us, and that's why we went the way we did."
Martin's canvas has progressed the most of the three rookies over this season. It exhibits a center fielder who's second on the team in stolen bags and has even collected two walk-off hits. Martin entered the season sharing time with Craig Gentry in center field as Josh Hamilton's replacement, but he soon established himself as an everyday player. He's hitting .25 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs.
The outfielder has one of the best arms in baseball, with 14 assists this season -- second in the AL and the most assists for a Ranger since Ruben Sierra had 15 in 1991. He learned over the course of the season where to throw in certain situations and how to throw accurately. Martin also progressed significantly as a baserunner, with 34 swiped bags in 43 opportunities.
"It's good experience for my career," Martin said. "It's my first time to play this many games in my life and play a season like this, but it's pretty good experience. Just working and preparing my mind for the playoffs, World Series or whatever."
While the trio adapts on the go with five games left, they'll have to fight through their lack of experience to help the Rangers win games. The canvases will continue to take shape as Martin, Profar and Perez develop their young careers, and a few October games this season will add a nice touch to the piece if Texas somehow snags one of the final spots up for grabs.
"You see the game speeding up on them, but there's some moments where they're able to slow it down," Washington said. "The more they play under these conditions as we move forward under these conditions, they'll be more poised under these conditions."
Master Tesfatsion is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.