SURPRISE – Sam Huff is used to crushing eye-popping home runs.
The towering 6-foot-5, 240-pound power-hitting catcher in the Texas Rangers organization was drafted in the seventh round of the 2016 MLB draft out of Arcadia High School in Phoenix and caught the attention of coaches and fans around baseball by hammering three 500-foot home runs in the minor leagues over the last two seasons.
But the 25-year-old Arizona native doesn’t want to be defined only by his stunning power.
“It always surprises me,” he said. “I think it’s awesome, and I’m very thankful to do that. It’s a curse because you don’t want to get too high on yourself or get yourself in a state where you think you’re that one-dimensional player. You have to hold yourself accountable and understand what you need to do as a player every day.”
Huff made his major league debut in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, batting .355 in 10 games. However, he has dealt with a slew of injuries in the two years since.
In 2021, Huff had knee surgery that sidelined him for nearly three months and prevented him from playing catcher until 2022. He spent the entire 2021 season in the minors, playing mostly with the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate in Frisco, Texas.
He bounced back in 2022, belting 21 home runs and driving in 50 in 63 games with the Rangers’ Triple-A Pacific Coast League affiliate in Round Rock, Texas and slashed .240/.303/.372 in 44 games with the big-league club.
Now, he’s hoping to perform well enough during the Cactus League to land a spot on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster. Through his first eight spring training games, he was hitting .364 with four hits, including two doubles and a home run, and three RBI in 11 at-bats.
“I went back to the minors to get my body under control and kind’ve rejected it (mentally),” Huff said. “I think it was beneficial. It got me to understand the mental side of baseball. It’s not easy. It’s baseball, you’re going to fail 90% of the time. It’s the 10% where you’re going to succeed.”
Injuries and demotion can take their toll on a player’s mind, causing them to question whether they can be the player they once were. For Huff, the return to the majors was a combination of determination and confidence.
During his rehab from the knee injury, Huff asked former major leaguer Howie Kendrick for advice after watching Kendrick recover from a torn Achilles tendon in 2018.
In Huff’s words, Kendrick told him, “It’s no joke, you need to understand that you’re going to come back. This is the part of baseball no one ever hears about or sees. What you have to do to get prepared and go out and win is the mentality, but also to take care of yourself.”
“I know once you injure something, you might not be the same,” Huff said. “It didn’t happen overnight, learning from a lot of the veteran guys and how they handled their business.”
Huff spent all of 2022 shuttling between the Rangers and Round Rock and was ranked among the Top 100 prospects in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.
There is no certainty that Huff will land on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster with Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver commanding the catcher position. However, as he proved last season, Huff can also play first base and provide a big bat off the bench.
“He brings youth, brings a lot of energy every day,” Heim said. “He comes to work, and he’s going to work hard with his pitchers.”
While power may be his specialty, Huff has worked on becoming an all-around hitter, spraying the baseball all over the park and being more disciplined at the plate. Huff’s personal goals for the upcoming season are to stay positive and “be the best Sam Huff.”
“You never try to stop being the best player you can be,” said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy. “I’ve been impressed with his discipline at the plate. He’s making himself into a hitter, too.
“We call it ‘light power.’ He’s one of those guys that – if he gets the ball into the air, gets out front – can be anywhere in the park, and you know it’s gone. That’s how strong he is.”
The Rangers made a splash in free agency this past offseason, signing two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, as well as pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney to round out a star-studded rotation that includes Martin Perez and Jon Gray.
With all of those stars in place, Huff is excited about the upcoming season and the long-term future of the organization.
“I’ve got to catch Nathan and Andrew, I’ve talked to Jacob a lot lately. It’s been awesome, something I’ve been looking forward to,” Huff said. “The (Rangers) brought them in for a reason. They bring a lot to the table.”
“I’m excited and I think Rangers fans should be excited, too.”