Rangers’ Prospect Sam Huff Brings Combination Of Power, Athleticism

Image credit: Sam Huff (Photo by Tom Priddy)

HICKORY, N.C. — Sam Huff’s mission this offseason was simple: Focus. The young catcher wanted to spend less time worrying about what had happened yesterday or what tomorrow might bring and instead hone in on what was going on in the moment.

He started the process toward the end of the 2018 season and continued it during fall instructional league, the offseason and the beginning of 2019. To achieve success on the field, he had to remain in the now.

“It took a while, and I’ve been working on it since last year. I felt like this offseason, I went into it trying to clear my mind and get myself into a mentality of when I go work out I worry about right now and start from there with the offseason built into the season,” he said. “It’s been pretty successful so far.”

That’s an understatement.

The 21-year-old catcher, whom the Rangers took out of high school in Arcadia, Ariz., in the seventh round of the 2016 draft, has been on fire at two Class A levels this season and is easily one of the year’s biggest breakout prospects.

Between low Class A Hickory and high Class A Down East, Huff has hit .300/.344/.608 with 15 doubles, 20 home runs and 54 RBIs. His home run total places him in a three-way tie with Rockies prospect Sam Hilliard and Arizona farmhand Yasmany Tomas for fourth in the minor leagues.

And while his raw power is prodigious, he’s far from a one-dimensional player. He’s more athletic than most catchers, a quality that shows up in his blocking, throwing and speed on the basepaths.

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Huff knows he needs to maintain flexibility and quick-movement skills if he wants to stay behind the plate. With that in mind, his physical training in the offseason revolves around agility, power and making sure his movements on the field are swift and forceful.

“I can be explosive when I run bases or I can be explosive when I hit a curveball I’m fooled on,” Huff said. “I can be explosive if I’m on my knees and guy’s stealing I can get up and throw and it’s quick, it’s powerful and explosive.”

His throwing arm has proved to be such a weapon that it would be a waste if he had to move off of catcher. Besides allowing just two passed balls all season, Huff has thrown out  51 percent (20 of 39) of the runners who’ve tried to steal on him this year.

With Down East, he’s nabbed an incredible 59 percent (13 of 22) of potential basestealers.

“I think at first glance people probably assume he’s not that good of an athlete because of his size,” said Hickory manager Matt Hagen, who got to pencil Huff’s name into the lineup 30 times before he was promoted to Down East. “If you actually look at some of the testing that we do, he’s elite in a lot of ways.

“I think he’s worked really hard to make himself a good defensive catcher. He‘s always had good hands, but now the blocking’s starting to catch up, he’s moving around really well and he’s got a tremendously strong arm.”

One nugget from those drills Hagen mentioned? Huff’s 10-yard burst was among the fastest in the organization. He isn’t as speedy over the long run when compared to the rest of his fellow Rangers farmhands, but he gets off the blocks with just as much quickness and power.

“He’s just a better athlete than most guys his size,” Hagen said. “He could very easily be an infielder, he could be an outfielder, and he could very easily be a tight end.”

Another part of Huff’s success this year can be credited to simplified swing mechanics. He’s eliminated a leg load and tried to be more direct with his hands. Those changes help him be quicker to the ball without sacrificing his double-plus raw power.

“We felt that my swing was kind of long, and I wasn’t repeating it as much. This year, it’s very short. It’s a 1-2 mentality and trying to be as quick to the ball as possible because I’m 6-foot-5,” Huff explained. “Guys that are like Jose Altuve and smaller guys, they can get to the ball quick, they can do leg kicks and stuff, but I have to make sure I’m quick to the ball and short and powerful.”

That well-rounded skill set has led to high marks from evaluators with other organizations, who see a player with gifts both offensively and defensively.

“He’s checking off all the pitches he can hit. Hit the fastball last year, hitting breaking balls this year. Once he figures out the changeup, I don’t know how pitchers are gonna get him out,” one scout said. “He’s closing up holes quickly. He expands the zone, but he’s got 7 power and a 6 arm. He can really catch even though he’s really big.”

As the scout alluded, there are still holes in Huff’s game. Pitchers have exploited him in June, when he’s produced an OPS of just .585. That’s where the newly refined focus will need to come into play.

If Huff can continue flushing bad games and not looking far into the future, he should find a way to make the adjustments necessary to get back on track and allow his all-around talent to continue to rise to the top of the Rangers’ system.  

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