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Rangers hope prospect Rougned Odor can improve stinking offense

Rougned Odor will take over as the Rangers' second baseman for the time being. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)Rougned Odor will take over as the Rangers' primary second baseman for the time being. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Desperate to infuse some life into their struggling offense — and particularly, their battered and unproductive middle infield — the Rangers recalled top prospect Rougned Odor before Thursday night's game. The 20-year-old second baseman with the funny name (pronounced "ROOG-ned o-DOOR") may not be up for good given the pending return of Jurickson Profar, but while he is, he's worth a closer look.

When the Rangers traded Ian Kinsler to the Tigers in November, their plan was to turn second base over to Profar. A natural shortstop, he had entered last season as the consensus top prospect in all of the minors but didn't have a clear path to an everyday job at any infield post due to the presences of shortstop Elvis Andrus and third baseman Adrian Beltre, not to mention Kinsler's unwillingness to move to first base. Stashed at Triple-A Round Rock until pressed into a midseason fill-in role for which he was less than ideally suited, Profar spent his age-20 season bouncing around the lineup and scuffling in part-time duty; he hit just .234/.308/.336 with six homers in 324 plate appearances.

Alas, in late March, Profar suffered a strained teres major in his right shoulder, an injury that didn't require surgery but is still expected to sideline him until early June. In his absence, manager Ron Washington has turned to a tandem of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy, futilitymen who have both been out of their element; all told, Rangers second-sackers have stunk up the joint, producing across-the-board AL worsts with a .189/.257/.246 line (including Odor's 0-for-4 debut). They might have been able to get by with that, but they've gotten no offensive help from Andrus (.227/.297/.303) or a Geovany Soto-less catching tandem (.188/.250/.316), to say nothing of the slow start from Prince Fielder (.228/.351/.354). Including Thursday's 5-0 win over the Rockies, the team is just 18-17, third in the AL West while ranking 10th in the league in scoring (4.17 runs per game) and OPS+ (97). They're also dead last in the AL in defensive efficiency (.660, 25 points below the AL average), which hasn't helped their patchwork rotation.

On Thursday, the Rangers designated Wilson for assignment and placed Murphy on the disabled list due to a neck strain, calling up both Odor and 21-year-old utilityman Luis Sardinas. Even if he's not in Texas to stay, "Roogie" should help. Signed out of Venezuela in July 2010, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound lefty swinger has climbed rapidly through the Rangers' system, impressing the organization and outside observers with his bat, his baseball savvy and his competitive fire — traits that owe something to his genetics. His uncle Rouglas spent eight years in the minors (1988-1995) and is currently a hitting coach in the Indians' chain, and his younger brother (Rougned Jose Odor, as opposed to Rougned Roberto Odor) is garnering attention as an international prospect expected to sign this July 2.

As a 17-year-old member of the Spokane Indians, the tough-as-nails Rougned the Elder gained minor infamy when he took on three Vancouver Canadians at the center of a 15-minute donnybrook that resulted in six ejections and 51 players fined:

As a 19-year-old last year, Odor hit a searing .305/.365/.474 with 11 homers and 32 steals split between High-A Myrtle Beach (100 games) and Double-A Frisco (30 games). That showing landed him spots in the middle of the major prospect lists ranging from a high of 39th (Baseball Prospectus) to a low of 64th (ESPN). Baseball America, BP's Jason Parks and ESPN's Keith Law all see him as a potential All-Star based upon his offensive ability. Wrote Law:

Odor doesn't have huge tools, but he has the one that counts, the hit tool, and tremendous feel for the game that has always had him playing above his raw abilities.

His swing isn't textbook, with a lot of extraneous movement in his front leg and in his hands before he loads, and he never really comes set, but still manages to whip the bat through the zone and generate lots of hard contact, mostly doubles power now but probably growing into 10-15 homers down the road. He's a very good defender at second base and an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases -- and pretty much everywhere else on the diamond. He's an aggressive, intense player, one who is now learning how to channel that into consistent production at the plate.

Parks noted that while Odor "plays with extreme confidence and swagger," he does have a tendency to "get overly aggressive on all sides of the ball [and] doesn't always play in control." As a prospect hound whose own roots are in covering the Rangers, he's seen — and touted — Odor more than most:

https://twitter.com/ProfessorParks/status/464500482552389632

Odor impressed the Rangers in spring training to the point that he drew consideration for a roster spot when Profar hit the DL, but his lack of experience in the high minors led the Rangers to return him to Frisco to start the year. According to Parks, he has focused on trying to overcome a tendency to pull the ball by using more of the field; after a slow start, he's gone on a 16-for-38 tear in his last nine games. Overall, he's hitting .279/.314/.450 with six homers, equaling last year's total and the combined totals of Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, who are tied for the team lead — which is part of the big club's problem, given that those two were the team's marquee additions this winter. For now, Washington plans to start Odor at second base four or five times a week, with 21-year-old utilityman Luis Sardinas, who was also recalled on Thursday, seeing time there while backing up elsewhere in the infield.

Profar is expected to begin taking live batting practice and possibly DHing in extended spring training games at the team's Arizona facility. Once he returns, the likelihood is that Odor goes back to the minors, but sooner or later, the Rangers will have to sort out how to handle their middle infield logjam. It's far too early to give up on Profar, whose talents and accomplishments merit an extended look at everyday play. For the moment, though, the Rangers — who will play 25 of their next 31 games outside the AL West — are more concerned with catching the A's (who are two games ahead) and the Mariners (one game ahead) and regaining the helm of the division they dominated so recently.

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