Quick, name a Detroit Tigers draftee! Odds are pretty high that the name that leapt to mind has a big fastball. The list of Tigers prospects with good heaters is pretty long. Beau Burrows, Matt Manning, Kyle Funkhouser, Spencer Turnbull, Drew Smith, and Adam Ravenelle all fire flaming fastballs from the right side and were taken relatively early in drafts of recent years. Detroit’s front office has been showing some serious love to the power righty.
The next in line may be a high schooler from Dana Hills California by the name of Hans Crouse.
In a draft class that features pitchers more heavily than those in recent memory, Crouse may be that top prospect who relies on his fastball the most, and a beautiful one it is. It sits in the mid-90s and will reach 97 miles per hour at its best. Unlike many of his age, though, Crouse’s fastball is both high-octane and lively.
While he didn’t touch the upper reaches of velocity that he is capable of in the 2016 Perfect Game All-American Classic, the fastball was moving well, and he was able to put a significant amount of arm-side run and sink on the offering. In fact, of all pitchers participating in the National High School Invitational, Crouse had the third-highest spin rate on his fastball, averaging a mark of 2,373 rpm.
High schoolers with a monster fastball have a bit of a reputation as one-trick ponies. Crouse breaks from the pack in that regard as well, backing up the fastball with a second offering. He has feel for a curve that is solidly above average, featuring a lot of movement and he mixes it in well with the fastball. In fact, based on movement alone, the pitch would be an easy plus.
At the National High School Invitational, Crouse topped the leaderboard when it comes to breaking ball spin, registering an average of 2,703 rpm. In 2016, among pitchers who faced a minimum of 50 batters, the two who had an average rpm on their curveballs that was most similar to Crouse’s were Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman and Washington Nationals co-ace Steven Strasburg. Now, that’s not to say that Crouse is the next Stroman or Strasburg, but that certainly puts him in good company. If comparisons aren’t really your thing, then take a look at this: the average MLB spin rate on the curveball was 2476 rpm, a figure 8.4% lower.
Here’s a gif of a curve he threw at the 2016 Perfect Game All-American Classic with so much depth it’s almost silly.
Unlike many of the hardest throwers, Crouse doesn’t have the intimidating mound presence of someone like Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez. He’s also a fun and inventive player who is reminiscent of one of the Tigers’ greats: Mark Fidrych. He throws from various arm angles, ranging from a Jeff Samardzija-esqe sidewinder delivery down to a true sidearm. His unconventional style and ability to change it from pitch to pitch makes hitters uncomfortable and is another weapon at his disposal.
His playful approach to the game and stellar fastball-curveball pairing add up to make a player that’s easy to love.
I may not have the honed and trained eye of a scout, but even I could see that Crouse didn’t throw a single changeup during the inning he pitched in the All-American Classic. There’s a simple explanation for that: it’s bad.
While he may buck certain stereotypes that are pinned to high-octane high schoolers, Crouse does fit one of those qualifications. His changeup isn’t very good at all, with MLB.com calling it a “distant third pitch” and most other sources call useable, but nothing more. As a professional, a starter must have a changeup to keep hitters off his fastball, no matter how electric.
Not only does he lack a good third pitch, Crouse does not possess much in the way of control or command. The reason that his curve is not graded as a plus pitch is his inability to consistently put it where he wants it, leading to some easy takes and some that absolutely get away from him. He also has hard time spotting his fastball with the accuracy that one would like to see out of a starting pitcher.
There is no doubt that the ceiling here is tantalizing. His elite arm strength and ability to run his fastball up to 96 mph almost effortlessly paired with feel for a curveball that stacks up against those of some of the best in the majors gives him a decent floor as well as an electric short reliever.
The key to success in this case is developing his changeup into something that can keep batters on their toes and enough control to utilize all three of the weapons in his arsenal. If he can do those things, then we’re looking at a man with a future of a No. 2 starter who strikes out a ton of guys and is a favorite among the fans. Crouse will likely go at the back end of the first round and won’t slip past the second.