For the second year in a row, the Texas Rangers decided to take a college player in the first round of the MLB Draft. With the 14th overall pick in this year's draft, the Rangers landed on Mississippi State second baseman Justin Foscue.
Foscue, 21, was not drafted out of high school. He was also ranked far below No. 14 by major publications like MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. What the Rangers fell in love with was made obvious in a Zoom call with Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg.
"We truly believe in this kid's bat. He's been a big performer in a big conference," Fagg said. "He's some kind of competitor... This kid, man, we talk about a lot the things we identify in players that kind of eat, breathe, sleep the game, and this guy’s, like, the epitome of that.”
On a Zoom call with the team's first round pick, Foscue reiterated those traits that made him so attractive to the Rangers.
"I've never been the top-ranked kind of player. In high school, I never was highly touted or heavily recruited. But I always felt like I belonged in the SEC, to see that level of play," Foscue said Wednesday night. "So, I had a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong. I believed in myself. I just went to work and I put my head down. I didn't listen to the outside noise with ranking and such. Having that ability to not worry about the noise and distractions and always believing in myself. I think that's how I got myself to this point."
Like all other sports in the country, the college baseball season fell victim to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It's what also forced Major League Baseball to shorten this year's draft to only five rounds from the typical 40. It also created a major hurdle of how clubs scout upcoming prospects. The Rangers made the most of the hand they were dealt and focused their time on getting to know Foscue the person just as much as Foscue the baseball player.
"They were just trying to get to know me as a person," Foscue said. "Scouts can only do so much when looking at a game, they watch the way you play. But to get to know someone as a person and how they're wired, that's another thing. That's where I separate myself from other people—my drive and my self-motivation. I guess they liked what they saw and listened to."
The attraction seems to be reciprocated. Foscue likes the investments the Rangers have dedicated toward player development.
"The fact that the Rangers are investing a lot of this stuff in player development, that makes me want to work even harder and try to improve the little things like footwork, first step quickness—little things like that to make my defensive game better and working with fundamentals coaches," Foscue said. "Little things like that is going to make me accelerate in the system and make me a better baseball player."
Regarding tangible traits, Foscue's bat is considered to be his biggest strength. In his sophomore season, he hit 14 home runs with a .331/.395/.564 slash line. He also finished fifth in the SEC in hits and third in total bases. On the other hand, some scouts have questioned his defense and believe he may even require a move to the outfield.
The Rangers have no intention of such a move. Fagg believes that they have a good enough athlete to be "an average second baseman at the least."
"With my bat, I always felt like I've had that knack to hit at the highest level. I've always felt confident when I'm at the plate, I never felt over-challenged in college," Foscue said. "Defensively, I just got to keep doing what I'm doing. I don't like to listen to a lot of outside noise. I understand that I have to get better defensively, but I also understand that I have to get better in all parts of my game, not just defense."
As impressive as his sophomore season was, it was a significant jump from his freshman year. He slashed .241/.332/.353 with only 3 home runs as a freshman. Those numbers aren't going to get a player drafted in a five-round draft, maybe not even in 40 rounds.
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"I never felt over-challenged," Foscue said. "I always felt like I was in every single at-bat. It just felt like I was missing those pitches I could hit out of the stadium."
Determined to become a better player, Foscue changed his mindset heading into his sophomore season.
"I said, 'I can't miss those pitches if I want to be a great player.'" Foscue recalled.
That change in mindset was coupled with a change in mechanics that centered around a separation in his hands while loading to flatten out his swing and make the middle to middle-in pitches easier to hit.
Three of his coaches at Mississippi State noticed it. Head coach Chris Lemonis, assistant coach Jake Gautreau, and camps coordinator Kyle Cheesebrough approached Foscue about the potential change and the rest is history.
“They all saw it in my swing. All three came to me and had a respectful conversation,” Foscue said. “‘Hey, we feel like if you do this, you can be a great player.’ We worked on it throughout the fall, and I think one day it clicked in the spring. I felt that. Ever since then, I've felt good with my swing.
"Once I started doing repetitions like that, I found that groove and I gained some confidence. I stayed consistent with my approach throughout the entire season and I found my true swing."
Normally, prospects would be hitting the ground running shortly after the draft. However, the major league season is hanging on by a thread and the minor league season is all but officially canceled. Foscue isn't allowing the circumstances to bog him down. Whenever the time comes to get to work, he'll be ready.
"I think it's just about perspective at this point," Foscue said. "I think controlling what you can control is a big part of it. Trying to do everything you can to stay in baseball shape is the only thing I can do at this point. I'm taking it day by day."
Foscue went through the same circumstances as other baseball players during this shutdown. When everything was locked down, working out was hardly an option, not even at his high school.
Over the past couple of months, Foscue has been hitting of Hack Attack machines at places that have Rapsodo technology, which he loves. In his hometown of Huntsville, Ala., he's been working with his trainer on defensive drills, his speed and agility, and in the weight room.
It'll make due for now, but Foscue is ready for baseball to return.
"I miss it, that's for sure," Foscue said. "I've kind of been treating this as a second offseason you could say. A lot of people are saying that. I miss playing baseball. I really hoped we would have gone to Omaha three straight years and made history. That's definitely disappointing, but I'm definitely excited to start this next chapter of my baseball career."