Prospects Winn, Crouse rising fast at Frisco

June 7th, 2021

FRISCO, Texas -- The Rangers’ top two pitching prospects are roommates and golfing buddies, but outside of those two things, they are entirely different people, both on and off the field.

There's , the precise and decisive right-hander who commands his entire arsenal as if he’s pitching in Game 7 of the World Series every night. And then there's , with his big-energy, super-animated go-with-the-flow kind of vibe.

But both guys have made those personality traits work for them. Rangers big league pitching coach Brendan Sagara joked that Winn just has a better poker face and that they have different ways of expressing their passion for the game and competing every day.

“Similarly, I think we both throw a lot of strikes, and I think we both have really good command of our stuff,” Crouse said. “Both of us do a lot differently though. I would say I'm a little more animated out on the mound. I like to do a lot.

“I'll mix in a different delivery when I feel like it. I think Cole's a little more fine-detail-oriented out there, and I'm just gonna do me out there. I don't really care what anybody thinks about me out there, and I'm just gonna have fun with it.”

Winn, a 2018 first-round MLB Draft choice and the Rangers’ No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has proven himself to be one of Minor League Baseball’s most dynamic pitchers. He was recently named the Double-A Central Pitcher of the Week, and he has allowed one run on six hits in 23 innings over his past four starts. On the season, he’s posted a 1.63 ERA with a 0.72 WHIP and a .122 opponents' batting average.

Sagara called Winn “special,” explaining that his makeup, tools and talent combine to produce a close to perfect pitching prospect. Rangers big league manager Chris Woodward said Winn seems in-tune with a new age of pitching, with his ability to tunnel his pitches and his use of analytics to make adjustments on the fly.

“He's kind of got the it-factor for me -- the ability to challenge in the zone and the bravery to throw whatever pitch he believes in most in that moment,” Sagara said. “I think when you have that kind of self-confidence and belief, and that kind of physical ability and the ability to execute his pitches, that's what makes Cole like the most special arm in our system.”

Crouse, a 2017 second-rounder and the Rangers’ No. 7 prospect, had a delayed start to the season due to the birth of his first child, but has been nearly unstoppable since his debut. Through four starts, he’s posted a 2.00 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and .100 opponents' batting average.

Sagara said something that really stands out to him about Crouse is his confidence on the mound.

“It's just really unique stuff, the way he moves, the movements he creates, the shapes and the speeds of his pitches,” Sagara said. “I think those things are really hard to find with his bravery on the mound and the ability to withstand contact and not be afraid to get back in the zone.”

Both Crouse and Winn, like every Minor Leaguer, were affected by the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020.

Winn was at the alternate training site all summer, surrounded by veterans to help him develop both on and off the field. Wanting to make the most of the situation, he soaked up everything he could from others at the site, namely from catcher Tim Federowicz.

“The stuff I was working on was just zone percentage with all pitches and getting ahead, and then just having every pitch be as consistent as possible,” Winn said. “Just try to throw strikes and do what you can do every time. I talked to [Federowicz] about pitch sequencing and stuff.”

Winn said he’s more than confident in his ability to pound the strike zone with any one of his four pitches -- though his curveball is still a work in progress -- especially now that he’s adjusted to professional hitters at the Minor League level. Woodward has emphasized the importance of throwing strikes for pitchers throughout the organization.

“I have to trust that my stuff's going to be good and that it's going to play good,” Winn explained. “There is kind of a learning curve getting back into it [in 2021], but I’m learning and growing from each start.”

Crouse, on the other hand, spent most of quarantine living with his brother, Marrick, who is in the Braves' Minor League system. He said he messed around with a cutter during quarantine, after having his brother show him a grip he uses, but Crouse hasn’t thrown it in a live game just yet.

Everything else for Crouse was just about getting his confidence back on the mound after he struggled with bone spurs in his elbow during the 2019 season. If the cutter lands, it would give Crouse a solid four-pitch arsenal to go along with a mid-90s fastball, a wipeout slider and a changeup.

“At this point in time in my career, I really feel like I don't have any excuses to throw a bad fastball,” Crouse said. “I need to execute a good fastball. I feel like that's the most important pitch. And I feel like if pitchers can get outs with their fastball, it's always going to make all their other stuff play a bit better.”

Woodward said that looking at the Minor League box scores and stats is part of his daily routine, and that he enjoys keeping up with the prospects, from Round Rock to Hickory. Sagara echoed Woodward’s sentiment, saying the Rangers organization is a big family and the coaches make it a point to keep an eye on the things going on at each level.

Sagara said both Winn and Crouse impressed in Spring Training, and that the organization is not shocked by the success of the RoughRiders’ pitching staff, which has the lowest team ERA in Minor League Baseball.

“We've done a tremendous job so far to start the season,” Crouse said. “Our starting pitching has been really strong. We're just not giving hitters credit and just attacking the zone, throwing a lot of strikes, not walking many people.

“Everyone came out in the season ready to roll after not really having a season last year,” Winn added. “You’ve got a group of guys that’re all pretty close and want to see each other do well, so it's been pretty exciting to be around a group of guys like that.”