Life came at Hans Crouse pretty quickly the past two years.
First, bone spurs were discovered in his prized right arm in 2019. They didn’t prevent the Texas Rangers’ 2017 second-round draft pick from pitching, though he couldn’t throw sliders and couldn’t sustain his trademark velocity he first showed in high school. He needed surgery.
His confidence sunk.
All healed and ready to go last spring, COVID-19 happened and that sent him home. He wasn’t asked to participate in the team’s summer camp or get work as part of the alternate player pool later in the season.
Then, Crouse didn’t pitch during the fall instructional league with other prospects while tending to an undisclosed personal matter, according to club officials.
The Rangers said it wasn’t anything worrisome, but that didn’t stop media and fans from wondering what was going on with the former MLB Top 100 prospect.
Crouse chose to stay home rather than go to instructs so that he and his fiancee could prepare for a son who is due in May.
All appears well with the 22-year-old right-hander, who is in big-league spring training for the first time and taking on his new world with renewed confidence and a purpose behind his pitching.
“I’m the only one who’s getting in the way of my future success and moving up through the ranks and getting to the big leagues,” Crouse said. “So as long as I can just go out there and compete and be fully healthy, I think it’s going to be a really good year.”
Crouse did throw during the shutdown and throughout the summer. He and his brother, Merrick, a pitcher in the Atlanta Braves system, were throwing partners, and a local coach helped Crouse make his slider the strong off-speed pitch it was before his surgery.
Minor-league pitching coordinator Danny Clark was a frequent sounding board and mentor last year as Crouse learned that the Rangers valued his 2019 season in which he pitched through the elbow issue and continued to build innings.
It wasn’t the step back he thought it was.
“There’s always that human element of baseball,” said Crouse, sounding wiser than his age of 22. “When you’ve been doing well for so long and then all of a sudden you hit a roadblock and things don’t go your way, it’s only human nature. Then you start to doubt yourself a little bit and thoughts start creeping in your head that are negative.”
Crouse continued working on his changeup, a critical third pitch along with a four-seam fastball that he said “has a mind of its own.”
He continues to pitch with high energy, even in bullpen sessions. His fastball was too much for hitters he faced Wednesday in his first live batting practice.
He was scheduled for a second live BP on Sunday and is on track to make his first Cactus League appearance Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels.
“He’s a pretty intense guy. He’s competitive,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I think even in his bullpen he looks like he’s pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. He’s got a lot of focus, but he’s got a lot of swagger and he’s got a lot of conviction in what he does out there.”
The club officials who have known Crouse longest don’t see 2020 as a lost season for him. They supported his decision to skip instructs to be with his fiancee, and they see Crouse as a prospect who has regained some of his lost status.
Baseball America rated him as the Rangers’ third-best pitching prospect and ninth overall. The Rangers have discussed letting Crouse skip High A and open the season at Double A Frisco.
“When things are good at home, things are going to be better on the field,” assistant general manager Mike Daly said. “It’s hard to pitch anyway. It’s harder to pitch if your attention isn’t on.
“He has a quiet confidence here, and knows he belongs. It’s a big credit to Hans and the steps he’s taken in his career. He’s got a real opportunity to open some eyes.”