Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Texas Rangers prospect Sam Huff. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show click here.
There was a time not so long ago when a 6-foot-5 power-hitting catcher might have been called a rare bird. Fans who have been following the career of the Rangers' seventh-round pick of 2016 just call him Sam Huff.
Huff reached the Majors in September, getting a chance to prove himself over 10 games after Jose Trevino suffered a wrist strain. The youngster made a lasting impression in the limited action, bashing three homers while putting up a .355/.394/.742 slash line.
Nabbed out of an Arizona high school with the 219th selection of the 2016 Draft after leading the state with 16 homers, Huff forewent his commitment to Grand Canyon University to sign with Texas for $225,000. Since then, he's batted .264/.328/.473 with 56 taters over 322 Minor League games -- played predominantly in the humid, low-laying territory of the former Class A South Atlantic League and the former Class A Advanced Carolina League.
His career opened quietly. Huff debuted at No. 23 on MLB.com's Top 30 Rangers prospects list in 2018 as a catcher/first baseman, but enters 2021 No. 2 on that list, No. 78 overall and No. 7 among catchers. The breakout came in 2019, when the slugging backstop was MVP of the Futures Game and went yard a career-high 28 times across two levels.
While Trevino remains likely to be the Rangers' everyday catcher and Huff missed time this spring with a hamstring strain, the 23-year-old has already proven he's an asset at the plate while steadily improving behind it. How and when his time in the Majors will come about is a little bit of an open question. But on the other hand, how long can you keep a big league-ready power threat like Huff down, especially as his defense gets stronger and stronger?
"Obviously, we know the bat is a huge strength for him, but catching is a huge strength too," Rangers manager Chris Woodward told MLB.com before Cactus League games began last year. "He’s got a chance to do what not a lot of catchers can -- that’s hit and do some major things on the offensive side.”
2016 (Rookie-level Arizona League Rangers)
While Huff got acclimated to wooden bats and the life of professional baseball, the Rangers kept him close to home. His most impressive tool -- his power -- didn't much come to bear in his debut campaign, as he hit one roundtripper over 28 games. But he also batted .330 and collected 10 doubles and a triple.
2017 (Rookie-level Arizona League Rangers)
Repeating the Arizona League, Huff more formally introduced himself to the Minors with a bit more authority. He tied for the circuit lead with nine homers while tallying 89 total bases (tied for fourth in the league) over 49 games.
The performance earned him his first pro All-Star honors.
2018 (Class A Hickory)
Playing his first full season, Huff finished in a four-way tie for sixth in homers with 18 over 118 games. He once again was named an All-Star, and he appeared among MiLB.com's Organization All-Stars for the first of two consecutive seasons, earning a nod as designated hitter for his power.
That power was on full display on July 24, when he homered three times over the course of a doubleheader. It was a watershed moment for the young slugger, who revealed to MLB.com that he'd been studying Ted Williams' "The Science of Hitting" and breaking down Joey Votto's at-bats for the past two years in an attempt to master the strike zone and make the most of his natural pop.
"It's been a struggle. It didn't come right away," Huff said at the time. "It was a lot of work figuring out which pitches to lay off, which pitches to hit, don't be too picky and still swing within your zone, but still hit within your zone. It's been a process, but a process I want to stick with and it's paid off the last couple of weeks."
2019 (Class A Hickory, Class A Advanced Down East)
If 2018 marked an arrival for Huff, 2019 was a culmination. The kid from Phoenix took full control of the season just a few weeks in, going yard in six of the last seven games in April to earn South Atlantic League Player of the Month honors. He belted 15 jacks over 30 games, earning a bump up to the Carolina League.
Part of that power came from his continued maturation as a student of hitting, and part of it came additional muscle mass.
"This last offseason, I worked a lot on my upper-half strength," he told MiLB.com. "I've always had a strong lower half, but I kind of died off at the end of last season and got tired as things went on. So I talked to a trainer, and we ended up saying I needed to add 12 to 15 percent on my upper half to have the perfect body type with equal mass on both sides.
"I was sitting 230 last year, but now I'm going 240. In the spring, we talked about, 'Could I keep that mass?' I never played at that weight before, so I wondered how it'd work out. But we focused on explosive workouts, anything that could help me be powerful but quick. I think I'm going to stick with it."
He'd also improved by leaps and bounds behind the plate, working over the offseason with, among others, catching coach and former big leaguer Carlos Maldonado.
"Last year in instructs, I tried to work on my throwing, and the thing they kept coming back to me with was, 'Be quick,'" he told MiLB.com. "Maldonaldo told me something useful. I should be like a shortstop. Be as quick as you can, and get rid of it. At the end of the throw, give a little more than you're used to make sure it gets there, and be really consistent with it. I know I'm a big guy, and we big catchers can't be as quick as the little guys. It's not easy, but it's something I keep working on."
The results were clear, as he threw out 48 percent of basestealers that year.
With all the pieces of his game in place, it was only natural that Huff shined under the spotlight on the big stage at the end of last season. Time will tell when he makes another bow, but by all measures he has any control over, he'll be just about ready to go when he's at full health.
Josh Jackson is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @JoshJacksonMiLB.