Hans Crouse sure can draw a crowd, at least relative what normally is found on the back fields of the Texas Rangers’ half of the Surprise Recreation Campus.
The Rangers’ top prospect was on the mound Wednesday afternoon, facing the Seattle Mariners’ Low A team and trying to refine a changeup the Rangers believe will make him an even better prospect.
Crouse allowed two runs in 2 2/3 innings before hitting his pitch count of 50. His top fastball was clocked at 97 mph, but the goal in this spring outing was to get his changeup velocity in the 86-88 mph range.
Well … ?
“I feel good with it,” Crouse said. “I threw a lot of good ones in the first inning out of the wind up and just got a little short on it out of the stretch.”
When the Rangers talk about their rebuild, they hope Crouse can develop into the top-of-the-rotation pitcher they haven’t been able to develop in the three decades since Kevin Brown broke into their rotation.
Crouse has a long way to go. He will start this season back at Low A Hickory, four levels from the major leagues, but he will return to L.P. Franz Stadium with all that talent and embracing all those expectations.
“I’m not going to hide from it,” Crouse said. “It’s a great thing to hear. It just shows some hard work that I’ve put in has paid off, but I’ve still got a long ways to go. I’ve still got a lot of levels to climb and a lot of pitches to make before I reach my goal of not only making it to the big leagues but sticking there for a long time.”
Crouse was hoping to start at High A Down East after he blitzed the shorts-season Northwest League and didn’t encounter much trouble after a promotion to Hickory in 2018. But he made only five starts there, covering 16 2/3 innings, and also dealt with some triceps inflammation late in the season.
The Rangers have a track record for bumping player a level if they have been dominant. Jonathan Hernandez, for example, quickly jumped last season from Down East to Double A Frisco.
But some wise words from pitching coordinator Jeff Andrews hit home with Crouse.
“It’s hard for any young guy to grasp who wants to compete, and I’m not the only guy here who feels like he can go get outs at a higher level,” he said. “But Jeff Andrews told me, ‘Your job is not to want to go pitch at a higher level. Your job is to go get outs at whatever level we tell you to get outs at.’ That resonated with me.”
Hernandez is in a group of pitchers prospects that also includes left-handers Taylor Hearn, Joe Palumbo and Brock Burke who should beat Crouse and other low-level pitchers such as righties Cole Winn, Owen White and Mason Englert and lefty Cole Ragans.
Hickory will have a couple of the Rangers’ top position-player prospects, shortstop Chris Seise and center fielder Julio Pablo Martinez, joining Crouse.
Seise missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but has been healthy throughout camp. His playing time will be monitored early before gradually seeing his leash lengthened.
Martinez, the Cuban defector who was Plan B last off-season after missing out on Shohei Ohtani, spent his first season in the U.S. at Spokane and played in the Arizona Fall League before a leg injury shut him down early.
And the top prospect’s plans for Hickory?
“I’m going to go there and compete my butt off and see what happens,” Crouse said.