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Crouse, Winn have old bond with new Blood

@GoldenSombrero
March 13, 2019

As the former director of USA Baseball’s 18 and Under National Team Program, Matt Blood has unique background when it comes to developing young talent. In his position with USA Baseball, Blood assembled the coaching staff and roster for the 18U National Team. The squad he made went undefeated en

As the former director of USA Baseball’s 18 and Under National Team Program, Matt Blood has unique background when it comes to developing young talent.

In his position with USA Baseball, Blood assembled the coaching staff and roster for the 18U National Team. The squad he made went undefeated en route to the gold medal in the 2017 World Cup, and 10 of its players were selected in last year’s Draft.

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Looking to tap into his wealth of knowledge and experience, the Rangers hired Blood as their Director of Player Development in Nov. 2018, viewing him as someone capable of cultivating and maximizing the potential of a rising Rangers farm system headlined by young pitchers and up-the-middle prospects.

With his arrival in Texas, Blood has ushered in a more targeted but also more creative approach to player-specific development within the organization.

“For me, the excitement lies in that we feel like we’re making strides towards being even better at pro development,” said Blood. “Our coaches have been awesome and really taken to that notion and mindset, and the players are really excited to be here doing some new things, and I think they’ve really bought in.”

Though hesitant to delve into specifics regarding any new processes and initiatives, Blood notes that the overall goal is an integration between strength and conditioning and on-field performance.

“Really, it’s a general idea that we want to give our coaches the resources they need to be world-class instructors, and give our players all the information they need to improve and be as good as they can be,” he said.

“The focus and attitude from everyone has been really good. I think that we’re going to see improvements as a whole.”

What’s more, Blood joined the Rangers having already worked first-hand with the team’s two best pitching prospects in 2017 second-round pick Hans Crouse and Cole Winn, the club’s first-rounder in ’18, both of whom excelled as key members of the 18U National Team.

Crouse, the Rangers’ top-ranked prospect (No. 85 on MLBPipeline’s Top 100), was dominant in his pro debut and pitched his way up to full-season Class A Hickory in 2018. Altogether, the 20-year-old right-hander registered a 2.47 ERA, .209 opponent average and 62 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings (13 starts) across two levels.

Winn has yet to appear in a game as a professional even though he was regarded one of the more advanced prep pitchers in his class.

That’s by design, though, as the Rangers had the 19-year-old righty spend his first pro summer learning and focusing on his conditioning after a long high school season that included Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year Award in California.

“He’s champing at the bit to get out there and compete, and I am for him as well,” said Blood about the Rangers’ No. 3 prospect (No. 89 overall).

“The plan right now is to continue to develop him holistically and fundamentally, then send him out there and let him compete.

“Cole just wants to get better,” he continued. “He’s taken to his nutrition, taken to his strength, working really hard out on the field. He’s the kind of kid you want -- someone wanting to improve himself in all phases.”

Camp standouts

Left-hander Brock Burke, 22, has made a strong impression early in his first big league camp with the Rangers after being acquired from Tampa Bay in December in the three-team trade that sent Jurickson Profar to Oakland.

In his two appearances so far this spring, the Rangers’ No. 9 prospect has racked up six strikeouts and allowed one hit while tossing three scoreless frames. He struck out the side in his first outing, a relief appearance, and fanned three batters over two hitless innings in a start against the Padres on March 3.

Burke took home the Rays’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2018 and was especially good late in the summer in his first taste of Double-A, showing improved stuff across the board en route to a 1.95 ERA in nine starts.

“His size, the arm, the stuff -- there’s a lot to be excited about,” said Blood of Burke, a member of the team’s 40-man roster.

“He still has some things to refine and continue to work on as he works towards reaching his goal of being a long-term big leaguer, but he’s come here and stepped right in from Day 1 and has done all the work.”

Blood and the Rangers also are very encouraged with the early returns from shortstop Anderson Tejeda, who’s now switch-hitting after hitting exclusively from the left side during his first four pro seasons.

Tejeda hit a career-best 19 home runs as a 20-year-old in the Class A Advanced Carolina League in 2018 and led all the system with 76 runs, 74 RBIs and 205 total bases. Against same-sided pitching, however, the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect batted just .172/.225/.258 and struck out in more than 34 of his plate appearances.

“He had done it some when he was younger, as an amateur, so it isn’t a totally new thing for him. It was something he wanted to do to feel more comfortable against left-handed pitchers,” said Blood.

“He’s taken to it, and we’ve seen some pretty good progress there. He’s shown the skills to do it, and we’re excited to see where he goes from here.”

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.