The debate over who should be the No. 1 Texas Rangers prospect in the Star-Telegram’s rankings came down to the value of a position player or the importance of developing a front-line starting pitcher.
And there was debate on who should be No. 1 among the two groups. The three positions players — No. 4 Bubba Thompson, No. 3 Julio Pablo Martinez and No. 2 Leody Taveras — weren’t settled until this week.
There was also debate on whether to include Willie Calhoun, though ultimately the decision was made to limit the list to player with no MLB experience.
Even the top pitcher came into question somewhat, but the majority of those asked were locked in on a young arm that has them gushing and an accompanying make-up that leaves them confident that the Rangers have a chance at a front-line starter.
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That’s saying something for an organization that hasn’t produced an ace in a couple decades.
The top Rangers prospect, as rated by the Star-Telegram, is ...
No. 1: RHP Hans Crouse
Born: Sept. 15, 1998
Height: 6-foot-4. Weight: 180 pounds.
How acquired: 2017 draft (second round, 66th overall)
Even at faraway Texas Rangers outposts like Surprise, Ariz., and Spokane, Wash., and Hickory, N.C., it’s well-known that the Texas Rangers are trying to rebuild themselves into a contender.
It’s also no secret that the Texas Rangers haven’t had much luck with producing homegrown major-league starting pitchers. There have been some since general manager Jon Daniels took over the franchise in after the 2005 season, notably left-handers Derek Holland and C.J. Wilson, but not many and certainly not a sure-fire, no-doubt-about-it No. 1 starter.
The Rangers, though, believe they might have one in right-hander Hans Crouse.
“It’s electric,” assistant general manager Jayce Tingler said.
“He seems like a really thoughtful, intelligent young man,” general manager Jon Daniels said.
Crouse seems to have a high opinion of himself, but not in bad way. He speaks matter-of-factly about the way he pitches and how he is viewed by the Rangers and the industry.
There’s no arrogance. He isn’t high-maintenance. He gets it.
“I know where I stand in the org and how I’m viewed, but at the same time that stuff doesn’t mean anything to me,” Crouse said shortly before his season ended at Low A Hickory. “What means a lot to me is if I’m continually progressing and getting better through the minor leagues, what kind of relationships I’m building with coaches and teammates, and I’m trying to get to the big leagues as quick as possible and the right way, if that makes any sense.”
It makes plenty of sense, and he says the right way is however the Rangers tell him to proceed. If that means he starts 2019 at Hickory again after making only five starts there, that’s fine by him.
While he wants to be in Arlington ASAP, he’s not checking his phone for messages from Tingler or Daniels after every start.
“I can’t control any of that,” Crouse said. “I’ve got to pitch where the Rangers tell me to pitch, which is completely fine with me, and I’m just going to keep doing my thing out there and try to do my best and perform.”
Crouse was only with the Short-Season A team in Spokane for eight starts, going 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA, 11 walks and 47 strikeouts in 38 innings. He was 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA for Hickory, walking eight and striking out 15 in 16 2/3 innings against more refined hitters.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a huge talent gap between here and short season, but hitters are more selective and they’re just looking for their pitch all the time,” Crouse said. “In short season you’d get more swings and misses on pitcher’s pitches. It’s helped me putting the ball where I need to put it more often and just locating my pitches and getting my off-speed over for Strike 1.”
Crouse throws a four-seam fastball that tops out in the upper-90s and actually has some sink. He throws two sliders, a wipe-out pitch and a slower bender he uses to get ahead in counts.
He was told to throw his changeup more at Hickory after not really needing it last season with the rookie-level AZL Rangers or this season at Spokane.
“The issue we had was he wasn’t using it because, quite frankly, he knew he could get everybody out fastball, breaking. It’s like, ‘I’m throwing 98, why would I throw something 89 mph and let them hit it?’ “
But talent alone doesn’t make a prospect great. Crouse has found a routine between starts and before them, one that includes yoga to put his mind at ease and relax his body, and his make-up has been far better than widely advertised while he was in high school in California.
“He’s been great,” Tingler said. “We let him be himself. Every team he goes to, he’s a great teammate and all his teammates love him, and the coaching staffs rave about him. I can’t say enough about his character and makeup.”
None of the seven pitchers in the Star-Telegram’s Top 10 prospects list is a problem child. Though none of them has pitched above Double A, there are more arms than just Crouse.
Spots 4 though 10 are occupied by pitchers, and one from the 2018 draft class, first-rounder Cole Winn, is ranked. Second-rounder Owen White just missed the list, as did shortstops Chris Seise and Anderson Tejada.
But a pitcher was No. 1, and he says that good things are on the horizon.
“We definitely have some talented guys coming up through the org,” Crouse said. “A lot of guys throwing quality strikes. I’m pretty excited about what the future could hold for the Texas Rangers.”
Star-Telegram Top 10 Rangers prospects
No. 10: Cole Ragans
No. 9: Tyler Phillips
No. 8: Joe Palumbo
No. 7: Taylor Hearn
No. 6: Jonathan Hernandez
No. 5: Cole Winn
No. 4: Bubba Thompson
No. 3: Julio Pablo Martinez
No. 2: Leody Taveras
No. 1: Hans Crouse