Friday on the Farm: If top first baseman in Texas Rangers system moves to left field, this player climbs to No. 1
(Hickory Crawdads/Ashley Salinas)
Dustin Harris was selected as the Texas Rangers’ Minor League Player of the Year in September after a breakthrough 2021 campaign in which he batted .327 with 20 home runs across two A-ball levels.
Of all the players in the minor leagues, and there are thousands of them, Harris was the only one to hit .300 with 20 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals.
The only one.
He did most of his damage as a first baseman, though he played some at third base as well. He is the Rangers’ top-rated first baseman, a position that the club admits is thin on depth.
Yet, the plan for 2022 is for Harris to play mostly left field, leaving first base even thinner. Oh, and Curtis Terry has signed with the Minnesota Twins.
Now, first base is as thin as a marathon runner.
But that’s not to say there isn’t a talented hitter ready to assume the No. 1 spot should Harris vacate it. There is, and all he has done since turning pro is hit.
It’s Blaine Crim, who might have been the runner-up to Harris as player of the year and is making a case to be the player of the year in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Crim opened eyes in 2021 and would become the best prospect at first base if Harris sticks in the outfield.
“I think that’s probably fair to say,” assistant general manager Ross Fenstermaker said. “The year that he had probably put himself on the map in terms of proximity and quality. And losing Curt to Minnesota probably makes that a little bit clearer for him. But …”
Ah, yes, the but. Crim is a right-handed hitter at a position that traditionally profiles for left-handed hitters. That’s not to say there aren’t any righty-hitting first basemen, but they are generally elite players at their position.
Albert Pujols is the best ever. Today, the top righty-hitting first basemen are Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Jose Abreu, Paul Goldschmidt, Pete Alonso and even Yuli Gurriel, who won the American League batting title in 2021.
That’s the level of production teams want from a first baseman who bats right-handed, and what Crim would have to meet.
“The bar to clear as a right-handed hitting first baseman is pretty high,” Fenstermaker said. “He’s going to have to produce at a high level in order to sustain a major-league career as a right-handed first baseman.”
Here’s another but: No one is saying Crim can’t develop into a productive big-league hitter. All he’s done since the Rangers drafted him in 2019 (19th round, Mississippi College) is hit at a high level.
Crim batted .335 with eight homers in 53 games in 2019 in short-season A ball and batted .296 this year between High A Hickory and Double A Frisco. He led the system with 29 home runs — nine more than Harris.
Now playing for Mayaguez in Puerto Rico, Crim entered Friday batting .395 with 1.025 OPS in 21 games.
“He keeps mashing,” Fenstermaker said.
Crim has more natural movements in his swing than Terry, which make the Rangers believe he has a better chance to hit in the majors. He has some areas where he gets himself in trouble, Fenstermaker said, but that can be said about a lot of hitters.
“He’s got snap in the bat, he has the ability to impact the baseball, and he leverages the body extremely well in terms of generating force in swing,” Fenstermaker said. “But as an amateur he’s done nothing but hit, and as a professional he’s done nothing but hit either.”
Beyond Crim, the depth at first base thins quickly. Former TCU star Jake Guenther, acquired with Nathaniel Lowe in a trade with Tampa Bay last December, is another first baseman but lacks a standout tool. Catcher Sam Huff has played first base, but mostly out of necessity to get him at-bats. The same goes for Sherten Apostel, who is recovering from knee surgery.
Huff and Apostel also bat from the right side.
The Rangers aren’t giving up on Lowe, a lefty-hitter who had a decent first full season in the major leagues. Lowe hit only 18 home runs in 557 at-bats, in part because he was consistently late on fastballs, but he finished with an above-average .771 OPS and drew 80 walks.
With the additions of shortstop Corey Seager, second baseman Marcus Semien and outfielder Kole Calhoun, the Rangers made their lineup deeper and will be able to push Lowe lower in the order and give him a chance at getting better pitches to hit.
He’s also not eligible for arbitration until 2024, so he will be given a chance to improve.
So will Crim. He could return to Frisco to open 2022, but between there and Puerto Rico has looked good against Double A-level pitching. At the very least Crim should see time next season at Triple A Round Rock.
Depending on how Harris fares as an outfielder, Crim could end the season as the Rangers’ top-rated first baseman in the minors.
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org