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State of the System: Texas Rangers

Huff, Taveras among those with valuable big league time in 2020
Sam Huff batted .355/.394/.742 with three home runs and four RBIs in 10 big league games. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
October 16, 2020

Starting in October and running through the end of the year,'s new State of the System series evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlights prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offers a peek at 2021. The Rangers opened up Globe Life Park

Starting in October and running through the end of the year,'s new State of the System series evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlights prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offers a peek at 2021.

The Rangers opened up Globe Life Park with a win over the Rockies on July 24. That may have been the season's high point. Yes, Texas was 10-10 a third of the way into the truncated 2020 campaign. Then came the infamous home-and-home series against the Padres featuring Fernando Tatis' grand slam, and the Rangers fell off, finishing with baseball's second-worst record at 22-38, four games back of the Angels and pulling up the rear in the American League West.

All is not lost in Arlington. Texas pushed some of its most promising prospects through its alternate training site and to the Major Leagues as the season went on, getting a chance to see top talent against big league competition. Top prospect Josh Jung wasn't among those who reached the Majors, but he did open eyes at the alternate training site and in the start of instructional league play. Sam Huff posted an impressive stretch in the bigs, even though he hadn't played above Class A Hickory prior to 2020. Others arrived in Arlington to get the lay of the land as they continue their ascension in the system, and even more beyond those are on the fast track after getting valuable work in during the shortened 2020 season.

System strengths: The Rangers' reasons for optimism include two Top-100 prospects in third baseman Jung (No. 50) and catcher Huff (No. 69) -- one of whom got Major League experience this season -- and more in the field.

“That’s where our strength is,” said Paul Kruger, Texas’ director of Minor League operations. “I think our position player ability -- David Garcia, Bubba Thompson, Steele Walker in the outfield -- we’re starting, position player-wise, to really build a fine foundation that we anticipate will push through our system. I think two of the biggest gains that we had this past ‘taxi squad’ year were with those position players. We saw some of the fruits of it in Arlington and also guys like Davis Wendzel and Justin Foscue having the chance to come to the [alternate site] and the ability to work with our hitting coaches more one-on-one and really take that step forward.”’

Huff played 10 eye-opening games in the Majors in 2020, batting .355/.394/.742 with three home runs and four RBIs. Jung impressed at his team’s alternate training site and is currently taking part in instructs.

Areas for growth: Of Texas’ top 15 prospects, 12 are position players. The Rangers need substantial growth from their pitching core to help aid a staff that finished with a 5.02 team ERA this year, fifth-worst in the American League. Kruger believes that help is on the way.

“You’ve got guys like Cole Winn who have a chance to be around Major League guys and come to Spring Training 2.0 and also take part in the [alternate site]. ... [We] have a bunch of arms that luckily had good situations and were able to continue to throw and are now here in instructional league that we continue to build,” he said of the franchise’s group of arms. “I think the depth of our system is at a really, really good place. As we continue to grow where we’re at and grow our system up and these guys become a little big older and little more knowledgeable on the mental side, we’re going to see the fruits of our labor. We have a lot of good pieces coming that we’re excited about.”

In addition to fourth-ranked Winn, Texas’ No. 6 – its second-ranked pitching prospect – righty Hans Crouse is healthy after 2019 surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow and is getting his work in at the instructional league.

What's changed: The Rangers raised some eyebrows when they selected Mississippi State second baseman Foscue with the 14th overall pick in June’s Draft. Foscue, who was ranked as the No. 32 overall Draft prospect, is now Texas’ No. 8, and as a polished collegiate infielder, fits in with the Rangers’ plan from their last couple of Drafts. Texas took Jung eighth overall in 2019 out of Texas Tech and plucked fellow third baseman Wendzel out of Baylor 32 picks later that year. All three should rise quickly toward Arlington. Two who have already arrived, 22-year-old shortstop Anderson Tejeda and 22-year-old outfielder Leody Taveras had never played above Class A Advanced and Double-A respectively before making their big league debuts this season.

Alternate-site standouts: The Rangers’ struggles in the big leagues opened doors for players from the alternate site to get their feet wet at the Major League level. That, in turn, created opportunities for other players to make themselves known at the alternate site.

“Steele Walker was a name (who stuck out),” Kruger said. “Obviously acquiring him in the Nomar Mazara trade, getting a chance to be around him day in and day out and see the impact that he can have definitely at the dish ... but also he’s a much more talented right fielder and outfielder than a lot of people give him credit for. I think guys like Heriberto Hernandez, who was a late add to the [alternate squad] there near the end, the experience for him, a guy that has the power but is now learning to truly become an all-around baseball player and be with some of the veteran players was a great experience.”

Walker and Hernandez both play the outfield -- though Hernandez also can man first and catch -- and are ranked as Texas’ No. 12 and 23 prospects. On the mound, an unranked arm was among those who stood out.

“On the pitching side, Alex Speas,” Kruger said of the right-handed pitcher Texas took in the second round of the 2016 Draft. “To be able to get experience on the mound facing veteran hitters, the same hitters over and over and over and learning how to face them and pitch to his strengths rather than their weaknesses, I think that’s been huge. Adding guys like Tyler Phillips, Cole Winn -- who it couldn’t have been a better experience for, not only because he’s with those veteran guys learning how to pitch, but truly understanding himself and getting on that game mound in Arlington and being able to mimic what we hope it’s like for him in years to come.”

Impact rookies: Huff, Taveras and Tejeda weren’t the only players to reach the Majors from Texas’ alternate group, but certainly made the biggest impressions. Beyond Huff’s stellar numbers, Taveras and Tejeda were able to hold their own. In 33 games, Taveras posted a .227/.308/.395 slash line with 11 extra-base hits and was successful in all eight of his stolen-base attempts. Tejeda was even better at the plate in 23 contests, registering a .253/.276/.453 line with three homers.

“You never want to be in a situation where you’re struggling to win in the big leagues, but if there’s ever a positive note through the year, it was how we finished with the young guys and the experience they got and the energy they brought, them understanding what it means to play like a championship-level Major League player for the Texas Rangers,” Kruger said. “I think that there’s a lot of positives to take away from a year that we didn’t see as many wins as we were expecting.”

Next big thing: Jung is it. The third baseman can mash, and his time at the Rangers’ alternate training site and instructs revealed even more dimensions to his on-field abilities.

“I think his summer’s been tremendous and him actually getting to play against another team now here in instructional league has helped that,” Kruger said. “Josh is a special player. The talent speaks for itself. His drive to be as good of a player as he can possibly be is second to none. ... We know all of his skills, his tools – but the best thing that we’ve taken from this is his ability to be a communicator, to be a leader with his younger peers. I think with the players here in instructional league, taking some of the things that he knows has been really, really beneficial. I think those are the things that, when you’re just around him for a short period of time, you don’t realize. But his ability to take action and put them into play, to take what we’re saying in classrooms and help some of his peers out and really take his game and his team’s game to another level, that’s what’s going to make him, we think, a potential long-term player for us in this organization.”

Tyler Maun is a reporter for and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.