Entering the 2021 season, Curtis Terry and all the rest of the minor leagues had been shut down for the previous 19 months.
Upon their return, the Rangers challenged their 24-year-old first base prospect by having him skip the Double-A level entirely and go straight from High-A to Triple-A ball. We’ve seen with some other prospects that this advanced placement is indeed a risk, but Terry has made the most out of the challenge presented to him.
The former 13th-rounder has slugged 12 homers through the team’s first 43 games of the season, entering the weekend slashing .307/.380/.601. Terry even hit for the cycle last Friday night. His success has been such that he’s become a clear candidate for a Major League stint on this rebuilding Rangers team. It’s to the point that questions relating to that subject have been asked of Manager Chris Woodward and President of Baseball Ops Jon Daniels, both of whom had high praise for the big righty.
Curtis (@curtball28) was kind enough to take some time out on his off-day and talk to me, and my first question for him was if he feels like he’s on the cusp of making his Major League debut:
Terry: I guess you could say that. I’m not thinking about it too much. When I go to the field I’m just thinking about working hard and getting better each day. Whenever it happens, it happens. I’m ready to go up there if it does happen this year.
Q: Does the fact that you’re putting up good numbers alleviate any of that pressure?
Terry: Yeah it does. I skipped a level, so I came to Triple-A just trying to learn more. There’s a lot of players — about half of everyone’s team [at the Triple-A level] has played in the big leagues. So playing these guys up here… my first game I kind of felt it but after Opening Day I didn’t feel much pressure because I knew it was gonna be a grind. Gonna have to work hard up here and learn more.
So I’ve been taking this whole season trying to learn and be the best player I can. That helps take a lot of pressure off me: I’m not focusing on how I perform, I’m focusing on getting better each and every day.
Q: Speaking of skipping Double-A: what kind of discussion goes into that decision between you and the front office, if any? Do you get to weigh in, or do they just say “hey, this is where you’ll be.”?
Terry: It was more like, ‘Hey, this is where you’ll be.’ I went to instructs last year and I did really good at instructs. One of the coaches asked me ‘Do you care if you play Double-A or Triple-A?’ And I was like, ‘No I don’t really care, whatever, that’s a higher level than I’ve been at before.’
So it didn’t matter to me. I’m glad I got to start up here, obviously, but it wasn’t really in my control. I’m glad the organization gave me credit for being able to go past Double-A and go up to Triple-A.
Q: Obviously the jump to the Majors is a different animal, but what’s the jump in difficulty like between minor league levels?
Terry: I didn’t play Double-A but I was talking to some friends that played Double-A and talking to some of the older guys. They said Double-A is a lot more like, big time prospects, bigger arms sometimes. Triple-A is a lot more veteran guys, there’s prospects on our team, but it’s a lot more older guys.
I think the biggest difference...Triple-A there’s a lot of the mental part of the game that I’ve had to adjust to day by day, game by game, at-bat by at-bat. Stuff I’ve really had to work on because these guys pick up on things so quick and so fast.
Q: In general, how’s it feel just to be back and playing baseball every day again?
Terry: It feels phenomenal. I know we play pro-ball and we’re here to perform and all that, but I just love going to the field and hanging out with everybody. I love going to the field, playing ball with my friends and chillin’, messing around with each other. That’s the part of baseball I enjoy the most, moreso than playing, in a sense. I love playing but baseball is where I’ve met a lot of lifetime friends, so that’s what I really enjoy about the game. So I’ve missed that from last year.
Q: Who on the team are you tight with?
Terry: Jason Martin, Delino, Ryan Dorow just got called up, I’m cool with Ryan, we hang out a lot. Sam Huff, he’s injured right now but he’s one of my best friends in baseball, hopefully he gets healthy and comes back. I hang out with everybody on the team though.
Q: What aspect of your game did you work on the most during the shutdown?
Terry: Oh man, I worked on everything. I did live at-bats, I probably got 100-150 at-bats in at home during covid. I played six or seven games with pro and college guys. I worked on speed, I went to the gym and kept my strength up. Worked on conditioning, defense. I worked on everything.
Q: Were there times during the shutdown when you were trying to work out/do general baseball activities and were unable to?
Terry: So a lot of pro guys, we would just go to certain fields we knew were open, certain high schools. It was kind of hard getting in, but we would go do live at-bats.
Once that stopped, me and my boy Trey, there was a little park in Dunwoody, Georgia, we went there three or four times a week. We would just take ground balls together, we’d hit on the field, there would be random people that would pull up to the field and hit us ground balls.
It was bad for baseball but at the same time it was kind of beautiful because you get to go back home… I hadn’t been home during that time in like years, so I got to go back home and enjoy baseball with friends I hadn’t played baseball with in five or six years. It was bad in the sense of covid but it was also a beautiful thing for me because I got to do baseball at home, it was like when I played high school ball.
Q: From the time you were drafted, we always knew you as a raw, power-first, big bat type. It seems like sometime maybe between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, you turned a corner and became more than just a pure power guy. Did something click or was there some kind of an adjustment made?
Terry: So, I think there’s three key things that happened during that time.
One, there was a movement in my swing that I fixed, because I would load too early and get my hands back too fast. So I had to fix that movement in my swing and that helped a lot with me being able to hit breaking balls earlier in the count and make adjustments.
Then the second thing. When I was in extended [camp] that year, it was my third year in extended. It was pretty hard for me mentally. I wanted to quit, I talked to my mom and my area scout, they told me no, stick it out, and I did. And then [the team] told me I’d be the first one [promoted] at some point, and then they sent another first baseman before me up. And I love him, he’s my boy, but that broke me down again.
Once that had happened, when I got to short-season A-ball in ‘18, I started really changing my approach. That mentality helped me to not take any at-bat for granted, don’t take any game for granted. Appreciate every day you have to play and show yourself every opportunity you can get, no matter what.
The third thing, I tell people this all the time and they look at me like I’m crazy. One of my hitting coaches said, ‘Curt, you know you hit like over .350 when you swing at strikes?’ And I said really? I’m looking up and I’m hitting like .240 overall, so I was like that doesn’t make any sense.
So then with the A-team I was like, you know what, let me just try to only swing at strikes. So the whole time since I’ve been hitting, if I swing at strikes, I get hits. That’s what the numbers say, that’s what the analytics say, that’s what I know. So I tell people, just swing at strikes. Take the balls and swing at strikes. I tell people that every day.
Q: How do you think pitchers try to attack you?
Terry: It varies. Whenever a series starts, sometimes they’ll go hard in, soft away. Or first pitch off-speed, and I’ll adjust. But they never pitch me the same, so I’ll keep adjusting. Different teams pitch differently, different teams have different philosophies for pitching, that’s one thing I’ve noticed. So that’s why for each series, when we go to play different organizations, I might prepare differently, or have a little different way I’m gonna attack them offensively. Because I know how they pitch, I know how the pitcher pitches but I know what the organizational philosophy for pitching is.
So it’s different. It’s not always the same unless you have a really big hole somewhere, then they’re just gonna keep throwing it there the whole time.
Q: What kind of prep work are you doing before each game/series?
Terry: We have reports on the pitcher like, what he’s good at, if the ball starts in a certain area you should probably swing because it’ll be a strike, where he throws each pitch and in what spot in the strike zone. Stuff like that so when I’m out doing my drills I’m swinging at certain pitches in certain areas.
Q: Is there a ramp-up in the amount of data/analytical info presented to you as you climb the minor league ladder?
Terry: I think it used to be a ramp-up, level to level it got better and better. But I think now every affiliate, they’re trying to do the same thing, so that when you keep moving up and get to the bigs, it’ll be the same type of information you get each day.
Q: Does the sheer amount of information ever get noisy?
Terry: Yes. Not now but like, spring training sometimes I kinda got overwhelmed. Like sometimes I didn’t wanna hear how good the pitcher was, I just wanna know how he pitches, what he has. I didn’t wanna know the inches of the movement on the pitches or anything that crazy. I’d rather just have like a little category and you rate each pitch one, two, and three. That’ll tell me all I need to know. I like the information but I don’t wanna be swarmed by it.
Q: What’s harder to hit, elevated fastball or down-and-in fastball?
Terry: I like elevated fastball, I think it’s hard for me to keep a down-and-in fastball fair. But I like elevated fastballs, easier to hit if they’re a strike.
Q: How important are quick hands for big-bodied dudes like yourself?
Terry: I think I have pretty quick hands for my size. My emphasis is not trying to fully pull it, I just stay through the middle part of the field. Trying to keep the ball fair, keep it on the barrel. That helps me adjust to offspeed too.
Q: Do you have any special hitting instructors you work with outside of the team guys?
Terry: Not really, I have a trainer who after we do our training sessions he’ll front-toss me or throw me overhand but other than that, during that time away from the team I really don’t. I just hit by myself. I just go in the cage and go on the tee, put the balls in the machine and just hit. Wait until spring training starts.
Q: What’s the primary message that hitting coaches try to impart on you?
Terry: They don’t really tell me much because they like my swing, but another reason — hitting instructors outside of that… that’s another reason I don’t really hit with people. I feel like whenever I go and hit with somebody, I’ve tried it before, and they always try to change my swing. I’ll be like, ‘I just had a great season, what are we talking about?’
I remember one time I hit with somebody, I took two swings and he said, ‘I can tell you can’t hit a fastball inside.’ That was my first two swings of the whole offseason, how do you know?
Seriously though I get it, but I think everybody’s so unique with their swing, it’s so hard to work with hitters and teach them what you think is the right swing and the right way to go about it.
Q: How’s the defense coming along?
Terry: It’s coming along great, I work with Kenny [Holmberg], our manager, he’s also the infield coordinator so I work with him all the time. I ask him questions all the time about defense, what I need to work on. We have a plan set now for how I’m gonna get better defensively each day. So I think my defense is getting a lot better and I’m working really hard. I know my main job is also gonna be DH’ing, but I really like playing defense.
Q: As a first baseman/DH is there an inherent pressure to mash?
Terry: Kinda yeah but also no, I just wanna have good at-bats. Mashing is gonna come as long as you have good at-bats. You shouldn’t try to force yourself to hit for power, or hit home runs...just go up there and have a good at-bat. That’s how I approach hitting, that helps me a lot.
Q: What’s something the Rangers’ fanbase wouldn’t know about you?
Terry: So I guess with fans, even here in Round Rock... I kind of get nervous around people I don’t know. So a lot of the times the fans, when I’m out at the games, they try to talk to me and I do it sometimes but a lot of the time I’m nervous to talk to people I’m not accustomed to yet. In the clubhouse I’m always talking and messing around with everybody, but I’m kind of nervous talking to new fans and people all the time.
Q: Did you craft your swing after anyone or have any favorite batting stances?
Terry: I haven’t crafted my swing off of anybody but I have favorite players I like to watch. I like Albert Pujols, he’s one of my favorite players. I like Tim Anderson. I like Tony Gwynn, old school players like that.
Q: Favorite baseball movie?
Terry: I like the Major League movies.
Q: Walk-up song of choice?
Terry: Right now I’m using Change Clothes by Jay-Z and Pharrell.
Q: What do you think is the easier task, hitting for the cycle or riding a unicycle?
Terry: Oh man...... riding a unicycle.