ARLINGTON -- Left-hander Joe Palumbo had an interesting year in his first full season since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Palumbo missed time on the injured list with a sprained left foot and a blister on his left thumb. He has a 9.95 ERA in five appearances with the Rangers, and he pitched just 80 2/3 innings in the Minor Leagues. He made 10 starts and one relief appearance at Double-A Frisco without recording a win or a loss.
The Rangers saw more than enough to be convinced that Palumbo has a bright future in the organization, and MLB Pipeline has named him the Rangers' Minor League Pitching Prospect of the Year. Catcher Sam Huff, who split time with Class A Hickory and Class A Advanced Down East, was named the Rangers' Hitting Prospect of the Year.
Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.
Palumbo will join Brock Burke and Kolby Allard as three young left-handers who will compete for a spot in the Rangers' rotation next year. Burke and Allard were acquired by trade, while Palumbo was a 30th-round pick in the 2013 Draft who has been a huge find for Texas.
“Obviously, Palumbo’s got really good stuff,” manager Chris Woodward said. “His fastball [clocked at 93.8 mph] plays, really good curveball, working on a [cut fastball], decent changeup. He’s got the pitches. The way he described it this year was, when he was pitching in Double-A and Triple-A, he felt like, ‘I’m way better than these guys.’ If he takes that mentality into the big leagues? He’s got that mentality of not having any fear of anybody.”
Palumbo opened the season at Frisco and pitched 53 2/3 innings over 11 appearances. Over that stretch, he averaged 7.2 hits, 4.2 walks and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
Palumbo moved up to Triple-A Nashville, and he was even better between his stints with the Rangers. He went 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA over six starts while averaging 4.3 hits, 3.3 walks and 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
“First full season after [Tommy John], it went really well,” Palumbo said. “I thought I pitched really well in the Minor Leagues. I still think I have some things to prove up here should I stay here. I’m looking forward to the future to show them what I can do.”
Huff is turning into another huge find for the Rangers after being selected in the seventh round of the 2016 Draft out of Phoenix Arcadia High School (Ariz.). His first full season was in '18 at Hickory, where he hit .241 with 18 home runs and 55 RBIs over 118 games. He had a .292 on-base percentage and a .439 slugging percentage, but he was only getting started.
“My offseason, I dedicated myself to everything I was working on,” Huff said. “Just working on today, not the future or the past.”
Huff began 2019 at Hickory but didn’t stay there long -- not after hitting .333 with a .796 slugging percentage in 30 games. He was promoted to Down East with a side trip to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Cleveland, where his two-run home run earned him Most Valuable Player Award honors.
When the season was over, Huff had played in 127 games while hitting .278 with 28 home runs and 72 RBIs. His on-base percentage was up to .335 with a .509 slugging percentage.
“Sam had a really nice year across the board,” said Rangers director of Minor League operations Paul Kruger. “His ability to showcase his plus power to all fields while also continuing to develop his strike-zone discipline led to him being a more all-around hitter in 2019. Sam is a really good athlete, and his ability to run the bases at an above-average level should not be discounted as well.”
Huff is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, but he has good athleticism for his size. He stole six bases and threw out 48 percent of attempted basestealers against just seven passed balls.
“The part of the game we as an organization were most impressed with this year was his defense,” Kruger said. “His ability to receive and frame the baseball and continue to improve his footwork alongside his plus arm made his play on the defensive side of the ball just as impressive as what we saw on the offensive side.”
There are still some things to clean up. Huff has an aggressive approach to the plate that resulted in 33 walks against 154 strikeouts, but he also had the highest exit velocity by a Rangers slugging prospect since Joey Gallo.
Huff finished the season as the Rangers' No. 2 prospect, and there’s a good chance he’ll spend some time in big league camp next season. That will allow him to spend some time around veteran catcher Jeff Mathis, and that can only help.
There is a catcher on the rise in the Rangers' farm system.