CARY, N.C. -- By his own admission, Hans Crouse loves pitching in the spotlight. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the right-hander helped led Dana Hills High (Dana, Calif.) to a first-round victory in the National High School Invitational on Wednesday in front of a bevy of scouts
CARY, N.C. -- By his own admission, Hans Crouse loves pitching in the spotlight. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the right-hander helped led Dana Hills High (Dana, Calif.) to a first-round victory in the National High School Invitational on Wednesday in front of a bevy of scouts at Coleman Field.
"I feel our team is a big-game type of team, and I want to be on the mound in those games," said Crouse, who recorded nine strikeouts and allowed three unearned runs in 5 1/3 innings as the Dolphins defeated Cullman (Ala.) High, 4-3. "That's a really good team over there, but we battled today and handled the pressure and spotlight when we needed to."
:: 2017 USA Baseball National High School Invitational ::
Confidence is just a part of what makes Crouse MLBPipeline.com's No. 8 high school prospect in the 2017 Draft class. Mostly, it's his combination of electric stuff and remaining physical projection.
The Dana Point, Calif. native hit 96 mph with his second pitch of the game and touched 97 later in the first inning on Wednesday. He maintained his velocity, too, sitting 93-95 mph for the duration of the outing. Crouse's slider flashed plus at times, registering at 74-78 mph with hard, late bite, and he used it increasingly as the game progressed. He did lose feel for it in the third inning, leading to two wild pitches, a passed ball and two unearned runs, but the young righty stuck with the pitch, often throwing it two or three times consecutively so as to challenge the opposing hitters' plate discipline.
"Once I start striking out a lot of guys early in the game I try to get even nastier, and that's when my slider started bouncing a lot and costing us passed balls and wild pitches," Crouse conceded.
Crouse also mixed in a several changeups in his outing, throwing the pitch firmly in the upper 80s with some late sinking action.
"I throw it when I play catch before the game -- flat grounds, bullpens -- and it became a big pitch for me to finally get a big out late in the game," said Crouse, reflecting on his third-best offering.
Meanwhile, Crouse's stuff plays up thanks his natural deception as well as his animated but focused demeanor on the mound that's reminiscent of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, whom Crouse lists as one of his favorite players. He also shows a sense of creativity, employing a Johnny Cueto-like shimmy at times while also mixing in the occasional quick pitch to trick unsuspecting hitters.
But all of that quirkiness does little to mask Crouse's competitiveness and emotion, as he seems to pitch with a chip on his shoulder at all times.
On Wednesday, Crouse made a pair of throwing errors -- one on a failed pickoff attempt at second base, the other an overthrow of first base after he fielded a bunt -- to give Cullman a 3-1 lead through three innings, but he settled in to retire seven of his final nine batters and pick up the win.
"Out of all my years of coaching, this is probably one of the top competitors. Sometimes his emotions will run a little high, but he competes," said Dana Hills head coach Tom Faris. "So when it comes to getting a little tough on him, I'm not worried about him competing. There's not a fold in him where it's like, 'Hey, I can't do this.' I know he can do it."
Mechanically, Crouse has become smoother and straighter to the plate in the past year. There's still quite a bit of effort in his delivery, but the right-hander's arm speed is among the best in the 2017 Draft class, and scouts believe his timing should improve as he adds strength to his 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame.
What's more, Crouse already has the ability to throw both his fastball and slider for strikes, all while consistently inducing whiffs within the strike zone. He threw 60 of his 99 pitches for strikes on Wednesday, including first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 23 batters he faced, and of his nine strikeouts, seven were swinging.
And, of course, there's his outstanding track record against elite high school competition -- which grew even stronger with his opening-round performance at the NHSI.
Crouse has been a known commodity in scouting circles for some time. He was one of a select group of underclassmen to participate in the annual Tournament of Stars -- held in June at the same Team USA baseball complex at which he starred on Wednesday -- and then established himself as one of the better prep hurlers in his return to event last June.
Crouse's stock continued to rise over the summer on the high school showcase circuit, which included an electric performance for the Team USA 18-U national team in the 2016 COPABE Pan American Championships. Starting what would be Team USA's gold medal-winning game, Crouse allowed one unearned run and one hit in seven innings, striking out 11.
Crouse is currently committed to the University Southern California, where his brother Marrick -- an unsigned 11th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2015 -- is a starting pitcher. Yet, there are many who believe Crouse will never step foot on campus given his potential selection in the first round this June.
While plenty could still happen between now and then, Crouse has all the qualities teams look for when targeting a young, high-ceiling arm from the high school ranks.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.