A part of the maturing process for a baseball player is when he understands how far his abilities can take him.
It can foster a focus for what must be worked on. It can foster a confidence that opens the doorway for a player to meet his potential.
In some cases, the potential is to be an elite player.
That might depend on the position he plays, the athletic ability he has, the power that comes out of his bat or the strength of his arm.
The No. 1 player in the Star-Telegram’s list of the Texas Rangers’ top 10 prospects has all of the above.
No. 1: Sam Huff, C
Age: 21 (Jan. 14, 1998)
Weight: 230 pounds
How acquired: 7th round, 2016 draft
Sam Huff left his mark on the 2019 baseball season with a game-tying two-run homer at the MLB Futures Game on All-Star Sunday.
The blast lifted him to MVP honors in a game between American League and National League prospects that ended in a 2-2 tie at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
Texas Rangers fans who hadn’t taken note of Huff’s season quickly caught up.
And they should.
Huff is the Rangers’ top prospect.
His ability to hit and hit for power at catcher, where his athletic ability allows him to be a solid defensive player despite being 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. He also has matured in terms of understanding who he is as a player and what he has the ability to do.
“This is the first year where Sam started to realize how good he is,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “I think he was one of the last guys to appreciate how talented he is, and he’s still figuring it out.”
The maturity stands out when listening to Huff talk about his season. He has found a routine before each game that gets him ready for 7 o’clock. There’s the baseball work, and then there’s the mental side.
If there any player on the field whose mind matters most, it’s the catcher.
“It’s been helpful just having something to do before the game, a routine, and get used to that,” Huff said. “When you get to the big leagues, everyone has one. You’re not showing up winging it. You come every day. You do the same thing every day. The little things help you mentally zone in before the game.”
Huff recognizes that he had a terrific season, made a name for himself on a national stage, and will carry expectations with him in 2020. He knows he has room to improve, that he isn’t a finished product, and that he still has a long road to reach the Rangers’ roster.
What he gained between the ears will serve him as well as what he gained between the lines.
“Overall this year is a big step in my career learning myself as a player in every aspect,” said Huff, who finished his season at the Rangers’ Futures Camp.
“You need to be present and you need to play the game. That was another thing, too, not thinking about the past or the future but being in the now. After the game’s over, I can reflect on it, but I give myself 15 minutes and then it’s done and I’m onto the next day.”
Huff was breaking out this season well before the Futures Game on July 7.
He lasted only 30 games at Low A Hickory before forcing the Rangers to move him up a level. Huff connected for 15 home runs and a 1.165 OPS in only 108 at-bats with the Crawdads.
He kept rolling initially at High A Down East before cooling some in June (.209), rebounded in July, but faded in August. Huff failed to homer in his final 17 games, but he finished the season with 28 homers, 50 extra-base hits and a .845 OPS.
The Rangers urged Huff to focus on hitting fastballs first this season.
“The point is we believe that if you’re not on time to hit the fastball, you’re kind of behind the eight ball,” Down East manager Corey Ragsdale said. “It’s easier to be on time with the fastball and adjust for the others stuff rather than look for the other stuff and try to catch up to the heater. It doesn’t quite work.”
But Huff isn’t one-dimensional. Teams learned fairly quickly to not run against the Arizona native.
He caught nearly half (30 of 63) of those who dared to run against him thanks to a combination of arm strength and quick footwork not typically seen from a catcher his size.
“I think the self-awareness, the ability to slow things down, the ability to manage a game are going to be huge components to his ultimate success as a catcher,” Daniels said. “His physical ability — his power, his arm, his athleticism — that kind of jumps of the page at you. But his ability to continue to mature in those other areas will ultimately define whether he’s a good player or a great player.”
The Rangers are hoping for great from Huff, their No. 1 prospect.
“First and foremost, it’s a good kid who can do the things he can do at the position he plays and that’s few and far between,” Ragsdale said.
“You’re talking about a monster of a kid and the ability to still be able to get behind the plate. It’s not perfect by any means, but he’s shown the ability to do those things. He needs to be more consistent. But what he provides offensively and what he can do at that position is pretty special.”
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: Sam Huff, C