Huff, Bahr headline Rangers prospects

Farm system provides promise for organization's future

Sam Huff was named Futures Game MVP after smacking a game-tying two-run homer. (Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

By Brian Stultz / MiLB.com | December 16, 2019 10:30 AM

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

Next year is going to be a big one for the Texas Rangers. Brand new Globe Life Field is set to open, it will be the franchise's 60th anniversary and Chris Woodward will try to right the ship in his second year as manager.

The future looks bright for the Arlington-based club, with three players -- Josh Jung (No. 55), Sam Huff (73) and Hans Crouse (78) ranked among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects. The system also boasts depth as Huff is the only one of the three to crack the organization All-Star team.

From power hitters to speedsters, dominant relievers to quality starters, the Rangers are loaded with talent.

Rangers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Sam Huff, Down East (93 games), Hickory (30 games): There seems to be an extra thud when the ball comes off the bat of the second-ranked Rangers prospect, according to Class A Advanced Down East pitching coach Steve Mintz. And opposing pitchers were hearing a lot of it this season. Huff hammered 28 homers and collected 72 RBIs across both Class A levels, raking at a .278/.335/.509 clip while contributing two triples, 22 doubles and 71 runs scored in his fourth season as a pro.

The pop was shown early in the season as the 21-year-old homered for Hickory in nine of 11 games from April 20-May 1. Included in that stretch was a four-game dinger streak.

What stands out about Huff was apparent to Mintz.

"The first thing is the big power that he possesses," the coach said. "He can hit a baseball a long way. He's a physical specimen and that sound the bat makes when he hits the baseball hard is unique."

Mintz still wants to see Huff improve defensively though.

"The biggest thing for him is game management and being able to recognize swings. The improvement he made behind home plate, being able to better call games and take game plans and get pitchers deeper into games," the coach said. "His throwing to bases also improved quite a bit, also."

Video: Huff belts grand slam for Hickory

First baseman -- Curtis Terry, Down East (67 games), Hickory (62 games): Hitters sometimes struggle when they climb a level, but Terry thrived after reaching the Carolina League. The 23-year-old Georgia native batted .322 with the Wood Ducks, knocking 10 homers, a pair of triples and 12 doubles while driving in 33 runs and scoring 35 times.

"He was happy to make that jump and he was going to make the most of it," Mintz said. "He's a very aggressive swinger in the zone and able to drive in runs. He hit in the middle of our order pretty much all summer long. He has the potential to be a 20-homer guy with the power he possesses. He was able to be healthy all year, so I think that was a huge step in the right direction for him."

July was Terry's most productive month as the 2015 13th-round pick hit .370 to earn the Carolina League Player of the Month honors. In total, he set career highs in homers (25), RBIs (80), doubles (36), runs scored (74) and total bases (253).


MiLB.com Organization All-Stars: Team by Team


Second baseman -- Nick Solak, Durham (85 games), Texas (33 games), Nashville (30 games): Acquired in a trade from Tampa Bay on July 13 for right-handed pitcher Peter Fairbanks, Solak made an instant impact with the Triple-A Sounds, batting .347 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs before getting his first callup to The Show.

The Rangers' No. 14 prospect finished the season with 27 Minor League dingers and put up a .289/.362/.532 slash rate with 74 RBIs. As for being traded for a second time, Solak just keeps going with the flow.

"I always want things to be a little better," he said in August. "I think it doesn't really matter at what point of the season, where I'm at, I'm always trying to be better. But I think it's just taking care of business every day, getting my work in, preparing to play in the game and having that confidence to play my game. There are a lot of things you can't control in this game, so I continue to remind myself of that. The numbers take care of themselves."

Video: Bulls' Solak goes opposite field for two-run homer

Third baseman -- Andy Ibanez, Nashville (121 games): When you talk about someone taking a leap, you're talking about what Ibanez did in his fourth year as a pro. In his second full season in the Pacific Coast League, the Cuba native put together career highs in batting (.300), homers (20) and total bases (232) while playing at least 28 games at three of the four infield positions. In 48 games at the hot corner, he committed six errors in 111 total chances for a .946 fielding percentage.

Shortstop -- Eli White, Nashville (116 games): After a standout 2018 season at Double-A Midland in the Athletics system, White was part of the offseason trade that sent Jurickson Profar to Oakland. The A's loss was Texas' gain as White -- in his first Triple-A season -- batted .253 with 14 big flies, five triples, 20 doubles, 63 runs scored and 43 RBIs. He also stole 14 bases.

Able to play both middle infield positions along with the outfield, the Clemson product made 92 appearances at short and committed 13 errors in 357 total chances (.964 fielding percentage) while helping turn 55 double plays.

Outfielders:

Scott Heineman -- Nashville (42 games), Texas (25 games), AZL Rangers (four games): The 27-year-old gave PCL pitchers fits in his fourth season since the Rangers took him in the 11th round of the 2015 Draft out of the University of Oregon. Heineman produced a .340/.412/.553 slash line with eight homers, two triples, six doubles and 17 RBIs in 42 games with the Sounds.

But he wasn't just a highlight reel at the plate. In what was one of the best plays of the season, Heineman was chasing a blooper off the bat of Memphis' Andrew Knizner. The ball hit his glove and teammate Christian Lopes was right there to bring it in.

"I saw him barreling down on it, so I didn't want to get in his way, but I thought I had a chance as I got closer. But then he dives and it skipped off his glove and I could hear him say, 'Get it, Lopey.' I saw it pop right up and went out and got it," Lopes said. "Afterwards, we just looked at each other and laughed. Like, 'What the heck just happened?' But it was pretty cool for that play to develop like that."

Video: Heineman, Lopes make wild play for Sounds

Heriberto Hernandez -- AZL Rangers (50 games), Spokane (three games): If 2018 was Hernandez's introduction to pro ball, this season was his way of proving it wasn't a fluke. Playing an abbreviated summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League and the Class A Short Season Northwest League, the Rangers' No. 27 prospect raked at a .345/.436/.635 clip with 11 dingers, four triples, 17 doubles, 49 RBIs and 46 runs scored.

Hernandez also wasted no time getting going. In the AZL season opener against the Reds on June 17, he homered, doubled, drove in four runs and scored three times.

Leody Taveras -- Down East (66 games), Frisco (65 games): The fifth-ranked Texas prospect continued his rise up the ranks in his fourth year, spending the first half of the season in the Carolina League before making his Double-A debut on June 20. Taveras never stopped hitting, recording a .279/.344/.376 line with five homers, eight triples, 19 doubles, 76 runs scored and 56 RBIs. The native of the Dominican Republic showcased his speed by swiping 32 bases.

While Taveras has played only 65 games above Class A, his glove could be Major League-ready.

"[He] glides through the outfield with little effort. There's nothing he can't do out there," Rangers field coordinator Corey Ragsdale, who managed Taveras at Down East this season, told The Athletic. "He goes back on balls very well, which is hard for a lot of young outfielders, if not all outfielders. He gets good jumps and runs clean routes. The arm is good, but the accuracy is even better. The scary part is that he's only going to get better with more reps under his belt."

Video: Wood Ducks' Taveras legs out triple

Utility -- Matt Davidson, Nashville (124 games): The PCL is known for its sluggers, and Davidson ranked among the league's best this season. He tied for sixth on the circuit with 33 homers and 101 RBIs while adding 24 doubles, 74 runs scored and a .527 slugging percentage. 

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Jason Bahr, Frisco (12 starts), Down East (11 starts): Hitters couldn't have been happy when they stepped in the box and saw Bahr on the mound. The 24-year-old went 10-4 with a 2.51 ERA over 122 innings, striking out 126 while holding opponents to a .186 average.

Before his callup to Frisco, the University of Central Florida product was 6-1 with a 1.71 ERA to earn Carolina League midseason All-Star honors with the Wood Ducks. Mintz, his pitching coach with Down East, said it was about settling into the organization after coming over from the Giants in a July 2018 trade.

"This year, he was much more comfortable," Mintz said. "He is a great teammate. What he possesses with his fastball and what it does ... when he started throwing the split, that is what turned the corner for him. He was able to get the swings and misses at this level. Once he went to Double-A, he pitched well there, hit a couple of bumps here and there, but he started figuring it out."

Left-handed starter -- Joe Palumbo, Frisco (11 games, 10 starts), Texas (seven games, four starts), Nashville (six starts): During a seven-year career, the 25-year-old might not have had a better stretch than he did after joining the Sounds. In his first six starts, Palumbo went 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA and 39 punchouts over 27 innings.

Offseason MiLB include

That run included throwing six hitless innings on Aug. 15 against Omaha in his last appearance before getting called up to the Rangers. He was named PCL Pitcher of the Week for the performance.

Overall, Palumbo put up a 3.01 ERA and .196 opponents' batting average in 17 appearances in the Minors, notching 108 strikeouts over 80 2/3 frames.

Video: Sounds' Palumbo wraps six hitless

Reliever -- Demarcus Evans, Frisco (30 appearances), Down East (17 appearances): There are shutdown relievers and then there's what Evans did this season. Over 60 innings, the 6-foot-4 right-hander posted a 0.90 ERA, holding opponents to a .119 batting average while striking out 100. Another Carolina League midseason All-Star, he finished 6-0 while converting 12 of 15 save opportunities.

"Obviously, he has some jump on his fastball and he's able to get it by hitters, but when he has that curveball going with it, he's tough because he can throw both of those of those pitches, get them to the same place and they go different ways and that makes it tough on hitters," Mintz said. "When he's able to throw that curveball for strikes and then get it out of the zone and use his fastball, he becomes a very special guy coming out of the bullpen. When you need that big strikeout, you feel like he can get it for you."

Brian Stultz is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianjstultz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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