Rangers Prospect Primer: Rebuild in swing

Crouse grows, Taveras resets, Martinez climbs, Palumbo healthy

Hans Crouse struck out 15 over 16 2/3 innings in his first taste of a full-season league last year. (Jared Ravich/MiLB.com)

By Chris Bumbaca / MiLB.com | April 1, 2019 10:30 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2019 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Shining star: Hans Crouse, RHP 

A young, flame-throwing right-hander is definitely not a bad kind of prospect to build a system around. That's essentially been happening since Texas selected Crouse out of high school in the second round (66th overall) of the 2017 Draft. 

The Rangers' top prospect has been impressive through the beginning of his pro career, during which the organization has been careful in managing his workload. The summer he was drafted, Crouse tossed 20 frames in the Rookie-level Arizona League, fanning 30 batters and posting a 0.45 ERA. The 20-year-old began 2018 with Class A Short Season Spokane, where he made eight starts and went 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 47 strikeouts over 38 innings. Northwest League opponents batted .179 against MLB.com's No. 80 overall prospect

That success led to a promotion to Class A Hickory, where Crouse put up a 2.70 ERA with 15 punchouts over five starts (16 2/3 innings). 

Video: Indians' Crouse puts away leadoff hitter

The 6-foot-4 California native owns a 70-grade heater that starts in the mid-90s but can ride up to 99 mph with relative ease. Crouse also has a wipeout slider to keep hitters off-balance. 

"He's a highly talented and highly competitive pitcher," Rangers director of player development Matt Blood said. "He's got electric stuff on the mound and [is] very aggressive. He wants badly to win and do well. Those are all really good ingredients for a player. We want to develop him as best we can, so we obviously want to do everything that's in his best interests. I think that'll drive the decisions we make in terms of pushing the gas pedal on him." 

At the crossroads: Leody Taveras, OF 

It might seem unfair to consider a 20-year-old who participated in last year's Futures Game at the crossroads, but Taveras -- whom the Rangers signed for $2.1 million as an international signee in 2015 -- has yet to put it all together at the plate through his first two-plus Minor League seasons.

In 2017, Taveras' first full campaign, he hit .248/.312/.360 for Hickory. During his Class A Advanced debut with Down East last season, he stagnated with a .246/.312/.332 slash line. 

The switch-hitter did end the year on a high note, batting .275 with 14 RBIs in August. Power isn't the name of Taveras' game, evidenced by his 14 career home runs, but he does have 60-grade speed on the bases. The trick for him will be learning how to deploy those burners; he was caught stealing 11 times in 30 attempts last year.

Texas' No. 6 prospect is an elite defender, however, with a 65-grade field tool and a 55-grade arm. He projects as a center fielder at the Major League level.

"He just needs to keep being Leody, keep working hard," Blood said. "He's a great kid. He's young. Just continue to stay on his path the way he's playing. ... He's got all the tools. He just needs to continue progressing as a player and he's going to be just fine." 

Video: Down East's Taveras slugs RBI double

Full-season debutant: Julio Pablo Martinez, OF 

The Rangers threw $2.8 million at Martinez to sign him out of Cuba last March. After a brief stint in the Dominican Summer League, he headed to Spokane for 60 games and produced a .252/.351/.436 slash line. The Rangers' second-ranked prospect clubbed eight homers and drove in 21 runs while swiping 11 bases.

Martinez will begin the season with Hickory. He doesn't have a ton of affiliated experience, but he is 23, so perhaps his development could be faster than a traditional Minor Leaguer. At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, the No. 87 overall prospect is not an overly imposing figure in the box, but he does have plenty of pop with a 55-grade hit tool. On defense, Martinez can play all three outfield spots, but his arm may best suit him for left field.

"I think you can expect to see him go out and be a consistent performer," Blood said. "He's a hard-nosed player and loves to play, loves to compete. I think you'll see him go out and fit right in. He's going to be a fun one to watch." 

Offseason MiLB include

Back and healthy: Joe Palumbo, LHP 

As a 30th-round Draft pick out of high school in 2013, Palumbo has exceeded expectations in his rise through the Rangers' system. Unfortunately, the left-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2017 and missed all of that year before returning for 11 starts in 2018.

Palumbo will look to put together a complete campaign and will begin 2019 with Double-A Frisco. If he pitches as well as he did in his return last year, then the Holbrook, New York, native will have a successful showing. Across three levels last season -- finishing with a pair of starts at Frisco -- the Rangers' seventh-ranked prospect allowed 14 earned runs over 45 1/3 innings with 55 strikeouts and a 0.99 WHIP. The 24-year-old's fastball sits in the low 90s and tops out around 96 mph, but his 60-grade curveball is devastating for lefties. 

Palumbo's strong comeback effort earned him an invitation to big league camp this year. The 6-foot-1 hurler made two appearances and allowed two earned runs on three hits and three walks while managing to impress his higher-ups.

"Joe had a really good Major League camp, performed well. He was healthy," Blood said. "We're excited to watch him go out and compete wherever he starts and hope that he can get to the big leagues." 

Loudest tool: Bubba Thompson, OF

There isn't one specific tool that differentiates Thompson. Rather, it's the possibility of the 20-year-old developing into a five-tool player that led the Rangers to take him 26th overall in the 2017 Draft. 

A high school quarterback in Alabama at the high-powered McGill-Toolen program, he opted to go the baseball route. In 2017, he played 30 games in the Arizona League. In 2018, he made his non-complex debut a month into the season. Over 84 games for Hickory, the 6-foot-2 outfielder batted .289/.344/.446 with eight long balls, 18 doubles, five triples, 42 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. 

Video: Hickory's Thompson hits solo homer

The right-handed hitter has 65-grade speed that makes him a threat both on the basepaths and on the grass. Combine that with a 55-grade arm and 60-grade field tool, and Thompson is a formidable presence in center field. 

"Bubba's one of those types of players that can impact the game really in every phase," Blood said. "He's a five-tool guy, and that's what five-tool means. He's an outstanding defender. He's a dynamic runner -- down the line on the basepaths and in the outfield. He's got a ton of strength and athleticism, can really drive the baseball, hit for average and power. Anytime he's on the field, you should pay attention, because he's an exciting guy in really all phases of the game."  

More to keep an eye on: When the Rangers dealt Keone Kela to the Pirates at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last year, the return brought lefty Taylor Hearn to the organization. Hearn was enjoying a solid season in the Eastern League, but over five outings with Frisco, the 24-year-old surrendered 14 earned runs. He will start 2019 with Triple-A Nashville. ... Jonathan Hernandez fanned 77 hitters over 57 1/3 frames during his second stint with Down East and was promoted to Frisco by midseason. Like Hearn, the righty couldn't replicate his success in new environs, posting a 4.92 ERA in 21 starts. ... Shortstop Anderson Tejeda entered last season with 22 career homers across three Minor League seasons, but the 20-year-old took a step forward in the power department in 2018. The Dominican Republic native belted 19 jacks, drove in 74 runs and batted .259 with a .770 OPS. 

Most home runs in the system: Tejeda

Most stolen bases: Yonny Hernandez 

Most strikeouts: Crouse

Current prospect to get most Major League playing time: Hearn

Non-Top 100 prospect to end 2019 in the Top 100: Thompson

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

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