The goal for every MLB organization is to draft/sign and develop their own stud starting pitcher.
The fact is that it doesn’t happen all that often.
There are exceptions, of course. The World Series-bound Washington Nationals have Stephen Strasburg. Madison Bumgarner helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series. Clayton Kershaw has been the backbone of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation for more than a decade.
But the Texas Rangers haven’t had a homegrown ace since Kevin Brown, and his best seasons were after he left them.
The hope is that someone in the minor leagues emerges as an ace, and the Star-Telegram’s No. 2 player in the ranking of the top 10 Rangers prospects has the best chance.
No. 2: Hans Crouse, RHP
Age: 21 (Sept. 15, 1998)
Weight: 180 pounds
How acquired: 2nd round, 2017 draft
The bad news for the Texas Rangers is that right-hander Hans Crouse needed to have surgery on his elbow after the 2019 season.
The good news is that it wasn’t Tommy John surgery, an operation that has taken out many other prospects over the past two seasons.
Cole Ragans, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2016, has had two Tommy Johns the past two years. The second-rounder that year, Alex Speas, underwent the surgery in 2018 along with the 2017 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Kyle Cody.
The Rangers’ second- and fourth-rounders in 2018, Owen White and Mason Englert, needed their ulnar collateral ligaments replaced earlier this year.
All Crouse needed as a quick clean-up of a bone spur in his elbow, which limited how often he could throw his slider but otherwise was just a nuisance in his first full professional season.
He’ll be a full-go when minor-leaguers report for spring training in March
But what he accomplished during his campaign at Low A Hickory might not seem like much, especially with a 4.41 ERA that might normally not be befitting of an organization’s No. 2 prospect, will have positive significant impact on his development going forward.
He logged 87 2/3 innings over 19 starts, which will keep his progression on track, and the the changeup he was forced to throw more out of necessity is now one of his best pitches.
“I’m proud of what Hans did,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Once he had the confidence from the medical side that this wasn’t something that could get worse, it was more a matter of pitching through discomfort. And it’s big.”
Crouse is on track to start next season at High A Down East, and likely will see higher pitch counts and more innings than he did this season. Fewer restrictions could free him to finish the season at Double A Frisco.
He will do so with his fastball velocity back in mid- to upper-90s throughout his appearance, whereas the bone spur this season prevented him from carrying the velo deeper into games.
The slider will be back in his arsenal, and so will a changeup that Hickory manager Matt Hagen said has a chance to become Crouse’s best off-speed pitch.
“The icing on the cake for him was he had to develop a changeup this year,” Hagen said. “We talked about that being a blessing in disguise because he wasn’t able to throw sliders as much as he wanted.”
Cole Winn, the Rangers’ No. 5 prospect, joined Hickory in May and watched Crouse deal with the bone spur the rest of the way.
“It was really tough for him,” Winn said. “His arm wasn’t allowing him to be as good as he could. Obviously, it was frustrating from where he was. He battled through the year and got through it, so that was good.”
Hagen agreed, and he also poured water on anyone who thinks 2019 has taken the shine off of Crouse’s status as a top prospect.
“The future is bright,” Hagen said. “I don’t think he was a full version of himself because he was battling with something. But he learned to throw a changeup and he learned to battled through adversity. So it could be two-fold.”
Top 10 Rangers prospects
No. 10: Sherten Apostel, 3B
No. 9: Nick Solak, 2B
No. 8: Joe Palumbo, LHP
No. 7: Ricky Vanasco, RHP
No. 6: Leody Taveras, CF
No. 5: Cole Winn, RHP
No. 4: Bubba Thompson, CF
No. 3: Josh Jung, 3B
No. 2: Hans Crouse, RHP
No. 1: Tuesday