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2019 Prospect Preview: Hans Crouse

The top arm in the Rangers’ system and the funnest one, too.

James Snook

Hans Crouse scouting report:

Let’s take a gander at this first.

This is what a year of professional baseball did for Hans Crouse. He was already a formidable figure to step into the box against, what with the slightly-erratic upper-90s fastball and the screaming into his glove and the vibe that he might wild out on you if you glanced at him wrong. Just the way he walks off the mound, all hunched over and surly and looking slightly Patterson-Gimlin. It’s imposing. And now it looks like he’s added 10 or 15 pounds of muscle and a pretty sick sleeve tattoo to boot.

Crouse’s eccentricities were common knowledge to the Rangers when they took him 66th overall in the 2017 MLB draft. There was, like, one story around the time of the draft that implied a problem with his temper, but the Rangers seem to value his fiery mound presence, and his personality has been well-received by both the Rangers’ fanbase and fans of the Spokane Indians and Hickory Crawdads as well. From his social media engagement it seems like he has quite a different demeanor off the mound. The Indians’ twitter person especially took a liking to him, it seems.

Crouse stands at 6’4” and is listed at 180 pounds but I don’t think he’s that lanky anymore. His fastball sits at 94-97 mph and he can touch 100 when he gets dialed up. His changeup was heavily emphasized in 2018 and he’s started to use it more and more often with his coaching staff’s encouragement. He also brings a biting, wipeout slider as a projectable out pitch. He can be a very, very entertaining pitcher to watch, just with his stuff alone. That’s before you take the antics into account. And you need to take the antics into account.

Crouse will walk off the mound fist-pumping so hard you think he might dislocate his elbow. He talks into his glove and will tend to the mound dirt with his hands. He’s big on stirrups, which is like MLB’s left-handed quarterbacks in that it’s rare and the guy’s probably kinda weird. And then Hans will go and mix in one of these on you:

Crouse was being viewed as a possible draft steal soon after signing for about half a mil over slot and promptly wrecking through the AZL in 2017. With the unhittable stuff he flashed in 20 innings there was a lot of speculation prior to 2018 about whether Crouse would skip Low-A Spokane and debut in full-season ball with Hickory.

The Rangers continued their recent philosophy of slow-burning pitching prospects, though, and Crouse waited until June of 2018 before opening the short season with the Indians. He was originally named the opening night starter, but was scratched before the game due to a cut on his finger.

Crouse spent the next two months once again looking like a man among boys in the Northwest League. He started eight games for Spokane and the numbers were giggle-worthy. An ERA of 2.37 and a FIP of 2.63, striking out over 11 per nine with a WHIP under one.

On July 13 he registered the best start any Rangers minor league pitcher has turned in since Brett Martin’s 2016 playoff gem for High Desert. Crouse pitched seven innings and faced one over the minimum and struck out half the batters he faced. Shortly after, he was named to the NWL All-Star team and he again impressed by hitting 100 mph on the radar while striking out two in a scoreless inning.

In early August, Crouse was promoted to Hickory and was slightly less dominant in five starts and 16 2/3 innings. The older competition got the bat on the ball more and his K rate dropped, but Crouse still posted a 2.70 ERA. As I wrote about with Taveras, Crouse was very young for the league he played in. He was one of only eight 19-year-olds (along with two 18-year-olds) to appear in the Sally League.

Hans does come with some risk. The delivery is pretty wonky and sometimes violent but interestingly the Rangers don’t appear to be messing with it much, perhaps because he seems fairly consistent with his arm slot and release point. One would think that a skinny-ish, hard-throwing pitcher with a wild delivery would represent an injury risk, but he’s been healthy to this point in his career. But you can bet the Rangers are going to be easy with him.

His pitch counts from 2018 look like a bell curve, with a gradual workup in the early part of the short season before he went for about a month and a half of pitch counts in the 82-92ish range, then they dialed him back again in his last couple starts of the season. He really only had one or two trouble games, so it was mostly the pitch count that dictated when he got the hook.

Crouse only pitched 16 innings in A-Ball and he turned 20 a couple weeks after the season ended. With the Rangers seeming to continue their stretch of pitching prospect conservativeness I’d expect Crouse to return to Hickory at the start of 2019 and make his full-season debut. I think the increased workload is enough of a challenge for a young pitcher to start a season, and if/when he pitches well at Hickory again I think we’ll see a promotion to Kinston, probably sometime around the Minor League All-Star break again.

And really, there’s no need for the Rangers to have their young arms skipping levels and rushing to the Majors right now. They can take their time.

Crouse has the highest upside of any pitcher in the Rangers’ system, a possible frontline starter, but with an ETA of three or four years from now.

He sure is fun, though. He's an LSB darling and recently claimed the #1 spot on the Community Prospect Rankings, along with claiming the #2 spot on BA's Northwest League Top 20 in October. Assuming he opens the season with Hickory we’ll be seeing him on the mound much more in 2019.