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Rangers prospect Huff wins Futures Game MVP

@castrovince
July 7, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The man who has hit more homers than anybody in the history of Progressive Field gave what can only be described as expert advice to Sam Huff in advance of his seventh-inning at-bat in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Progressive Field.

CLEVELAND -- The man who has hit more homers than anybody in the history of Progressive Field gave what can only be described as expert advice to Sam Huff in advance of his seventh-inning at-bat in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Progressive Field.

“Hit the ball hard,” American League manager Jim Thome said.

The Rangers' catching prospect did just that. Up to bat with a runner aboard, one out and the AL in danger of being shut out in a game only scheduled to go seven, the guy named Huff breathed new life into the ballgame and earned himself the Larry Doby Most Valuable Player honor with a two-run, game-tying blast to the bleachers off Rockies prospect Ben Bowden.

That homer ultimately sent the game to an extra inning, where it went unresolved in a 2-2 tie. But while the result was unfulfilling for both squads, the experience of coming up clutch on this prime prospect stage meant a lot to the 21-year-old Huff.

Box score

“When I saw it go, my heart started going and then I just started smiling to myself,” Huff said. “I didn’t think it was something I was ever going to experience in my life.”

The AL dugout erupted, and the players stormed on the field to greet Huff at home. Thome, the All-Star Game ambassador bonding with the next generation of talent in the building where he once had so many magic moments, was beaming.

“Good for the kid,” Thome said. “He got a pitch to hit and put a great swing on it.”

It was a revelatory moment in a bit of a breakout season for Huff, the Rangers’ No. 21 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. In 2019, he’s begun to capitalize on the ceiling Texas forecast for him when he was taken out of a Phoenix-area high school in the seventh round of the 2016 Draft.

An aggressive hitter with a lot of raw power, Huff hit 18 homers with 22 doubles at Class A Hickory in 2018, but he had a .241 average, a .292 on-base percentage and a .439 slugging percentage. Those aren’t numbers that jump off the page.

This year, in 30 games at Hickory and 50 games since a promotion to Class A Advanced Down East, Huff has a more encouraging .284/.327/.559 slash.

“My offseason, I dedicated myself to everything I was working on,” Huff said. “Just working on today, not the future or the past.”

On Futures Game rosters typically dotted with prospects who are listed within the top 10 of their respective organizations, Huff was definitely a lower-profile addition to the AL squad. But his sweet swat off Bowden is all part of a season in which his profile is rising.

Huff came through on a night in which his mid-game assignment at first base off the bench was a surprise even to him. He didn’t know until, he estimated, 15 minutes before the start of the game that he would be inserted as a first baseman, rather than his native catching spot. Though he’s played some first base in the Minors, he hadn’t even brought a first-base glove with him to the Futures Game. He had to borrow one from Pirates prospect Will Craig.

The homer, on the other hand, was old hat, because Huff has already hit 21 of them in 2019.

Of course, none of them were quite like this one.

“It was a really cool experience,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t think I was going to be doing at the start of the game, but it was really cool to have that experience.”

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.