Richard Justice

Rangers fueled by talented young trio

Mazara, Odor and Profar big part of Texas' climb to perch atop AL

Rangers fueled by talented young trio

Go ahead and watch the Texas Rangers for a couple of nights. I dare you not to be captivated.

It's not just that the Rangers are good, though they are really good. At 35-22, they have the best record in the American League and a four-game lead over the Mariners in the AL West.

But what really makes Texas so much fun to watch is the three kids: 21-year-old outfielder Nomar Mazara, 22-year-old second baseman Rougned Odor and 23-year-old infielder Jurickson Profar.

They're everywhere. Getting hits. Scoring runs. Providing energy. In these three, the Rangers have the kind of youth and talent every club is trying to acquire. That's what this week's 2016 Draft is about.

Amazing young talent has come in waves the past few years, and teams have learned that the old timetables aren't necessary -- that it's OK to rush players and challenge them.

These three kids were all international signings for Texas, but they're a tribute to general manager Jon Daniels and the player development system he has constructed that has fueled five playoff appearances and two AL pennants in the past six seasons.

Mazara, Odor and Profar have helped carry the Rangers into first place with a 13-3 stretch. During a 6-5 walk-off victory over the Astros on Monday, the three of them were on base eight times, scored four runs and drove in three. Odor's two-out double scored Adrian Beltre with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win it.

Odor's three-RBI game

Only Odor was part of Texas' original 2016 blueprint. He made his debut two years ago and has become a catalyst in the dugout and on the field. Odor enters Tuesday with eight home runs, 13 doubles, six stolen bases and a .273 batting average, and the Rangers believe he might be the best second baseman in the game.

As for Mazara and Profar, Texas had them both penciled in for Triple-A Round Rock, and that's where both opened the season.

Funny how these things work out sometimes. The Rangers wouldn't be in first place today without them. Here's how it happened.

Mazara was called up April 10 after Shin-Soo Choo got hurt. He was the organization's No. 1 prospect, and even though he was 20 at the time, the Rangers wanted to see if he could hold his own.

Mazara did. And then some. By the time Choo returned May 20, Mazara had five home runs and a .307 batting average.

Mazara's 4-for-4 night

When left fielder Ian Desmond slid over to center, Mazara took over in right. He was the AL Rookie of the Month for April and May and is hitting .474 in June.

And Profar was once the Rangers' top prospect; he made his Major League debut in 2012 at 19. But injuries sidelined him for the entire 2014 and '15 seasons, and this season, Texas would have been thrilled to see him play a full season at Triple-A.

Besides that, there was no position for Profar on the big league club when the season opened. He came up as a middle infielder, but Elvis Andrus and Odor are locked in those spots. So Profar was widely seen as a trade asset if he could stay healthy.

And then Odor punched Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista on May 15.

When Odor began serving a seven-game suspension on May 27, Profar played his first game in the Major Leagues in 974 days. He collected a single that day. Profar got a single and a triple the next day, then two more singles the day after that.

In seven games as Odor's replacement, Profar hit .364 and homered twice as the Rangers went 5-2. As with Mazara, Texas was forced to figure out a way to play him.

Here's where it gets tricky. In three games since Odor's return, Profar has served as the designated hitter twice and the second baseman once (with Odor the DH).

Profar's solo shot

Twice, manager Jeff Banister sat Prince Fielder, who is hitting .193. Another time, he didn't play Mitch Moreland, who is hitting .206.

Banister isn't certain how it's going to play out. He says he's going to keep working to figure a way to keep everyone happy.

This much he knows: Odor, Profar and Mazara have to play. As problems go, it's the kind every manager would love to have.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.