Hello, Minor League Baseball. It's so good to see you again.
The COVID-19 pandemic robbed us all of the joy of watching the development of young baseball players in the minor leagues last year. Even though this season was delayed by a month, getting to this day is well worth the wait.
Three of the four Rangers full-season affiliates begin their 2021 season on Tuesday, but all four get underway this week.
- Triple-A Round Rock Express: vs Oklahoma City on May 6 (Starter: LHP Wes Benjamin)
- Double-A Frisco RoughRiders: vs Midland on May 4...(Starter: RHP Tim Brennan)
- High-A Hickory Crawdads: at Greensboro on May 4 (Starter: RHP Justin Slaten)
- Low-A Down East Wood Ducks: at Kannapolis on May 4 (Starter: RHP Owen White)
With the minor league season kicking off, there are many players that should be worth your attention this year. Here are just a few:
INF Davis Wendzel (Double-A Frisco)
There can never be too much depth at shortstop. While Davis Wendzel was drafted 41st overall out of Baylor as a third baseman, he has shown his versatility around the infield over the past several months at the alternate site, instructs, and spring training.
Wendzel, 23, is a polished hitter, has a very strong arm from either shortstop or third base, and impressed the Rangers in multiple ways throughout spring training this year.
“The ballplayer is what really stands out for me,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said in the spring. “He has a natural confidence about him. We walks around, he’s not arrogant or cocky, but he has this confidence. When you talk to him, he can articulate what he’s doing and how he’s doing it. Those are things that stand out to me.”
With third base earmarked for Josh Jung and Isiah Kiner-Falefa holding down shortstop, it’s unclear where Wendzel factors in once he is ready for the big leagues. Ranger fans won’t likely see Wendzel in Arlington until 2022, and his first full professional season will be something to watch.
RHP Cole Winn (Double-A Frisco)
Fans have been waiting to see how the crop of pitching prospects will flourish as they inch closer to the big leagues. In Cole Winn, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 2018, they feel they have a future staple in their big league rotation.
The Rangers love Winn's makeup, describing him as a pitcher who blends power and feel together quite well. While Winn doesn’t have the traditional size of a power pitcher, his athleticism and improved mechanics allows him to repeat a clean delivery. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph, topping out at 97. He also has a plus-curveball, along with an improving slider and changeup.
Winn got off to a rough start in his first full professional season in 2019, but finished strong with a 2.81 ERA in his final 12 starts at Class-A Hickory. His time at the alternate training site and spring training paid dividends, as the major league coaching staff helped him take everything to the next level.
RHP Hans Crouse (Double-A Frisco)
Crouse has the stuff and swagger to become a fan-favorite once he makes his way to the big leagues. The Rangers nabbed him in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft, despite possessing first-round talent. However, some scouts were turned off by his delivery, which has a lot of moving parts.
After signing him for $1.45 million, Crouse pitched well in Rookie Ball after being drafted, then impressed again at Short Season Spokane and Class-A Hickory in 2018. However, Crouse was limited by bone spurs in his elbow in 2019, which affected his performance and cut his season short. He had them removed that October, but then sat out alternate camp and instructional league in 2020 for undisclosed personal reasons that the Rangers say aren't a concern.
Crouse took part in his first big league camp this past spring, flashing his electric stuff he had when he was last fully healthy in 2018. His fastball sits at 92-97 mph, and reaches 99 with riding life. His slider can be a plus pitch with mid-80s velocity and two-plane break. He focused more on his changeup in 2019, which could become a solid third option for him with more refinement.
Some experts still aren’t fond of his delivery, but he averaged just two walks per nine innings (BB/9) in 2019. Crouse will pair with Winn as part of a talented rotation at Double-A Frisco in 2021, and could factor into the big league rotation plans as early as mid-2022 if all things go well this year.
INF Luisangel Acuña (Low-A Down East)
It’s not fair to be the little brother of a superstar like Ronald Acuña Jr., but it’s the hand Luisangel Acuña has been dealt. What’s more, Ronald hyped up his younger brother last fall, which only raises expectations for the 19-year-old shortstop.
“I would say at the age of 17 he was hitting home runs the way I’m hitting them now,” Acuña Jr. said. “He plays the game, at his age, the way I’m playing it now at my age.”
That’s an awfully high bar.
Luisangel Acuña does have five-tool potential, and got off to a great start during his pro debut in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2019. He slashed .342/.438/.455 with two home runs and 29 RBI in 202 at-bats. Despite having an aggressive approach, he walked more than he struck out in 2019. He hits hard line drives and possesses plus speed that helps him on the basepaths and in the field.
The COVID-19 pandemic ruined the Rangers’ plans for his debut in the United States last year. But after impressing club officials at instructs last fall and in minor league camp this spring, the Rangers are confident to have Acuña make his full-season debut at such a young age.
OF Evan Carter (Low-A Down East)
Okay, call me a sucker for proving people wrong. But this one would take the cake if the Rangers hit on this kid.
Texas was criticized for overreaching for Evan Carter at 50th overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, who was a relatively unknown prep prospect out of Elizabethton, Tennessee. However, Carter has done nothing but impress since the Rangers signed him away from Duke for an under-slot $1.25 million.
Carter, 18, displayed a very fluid and natural swing at instructs last fall, along with an impressive ability to control the strike zone. He possesses solid-to-plus speed with the ability to play all three positions in the outfield. Once he adds more muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame, he can begin to tap into his power potential.
The Rangers are very intrigued by Carter's early success, having him join two other players in the Rangers 2020 draft class that will start in full season less than a year after being drafted. Part of the decision-making is affected by the new structure of the minor league system. However, it doesn't mean the Rangers don't believe he's not ready for the challenge.
Photos of Davis Wendzel, Cole Winn, and Hans Crouse by Kelly Gavin / Courtesy of the Texas Rangers
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