How Detroit Tigers prospect Josh Crouch hit his way to West Michigan

Detroit Free Press

Josh Crouch is starting to sound like Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch.

“The key for me is take care of the pitchers,” said Crouch, a catcher at High-A West Michigan. “They’re the priority. Because without them, we don’t win. Whatever I do offensively is a plus, so I’m just trying to go out there and do what I can to help the pitchers.”

Sound familiar?

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That’s exactly what Hinch preaches at the big-league level. More than anything, Hinch wants his catchers to catch a winner, and it shows how Hinch’s philosophy has crept into the Tigers’ minor-league system.

But Crouch has an added benefit.

He can hit.

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An 11th-round pick in 2021 out of Central Florida, Crouch started the season at Low-A Lakeland. After he hit .333 with an .836 OPS in 11 games, he was promoted to West Michigan.

“He hit his way out of Lakeland,” said Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ vice president of player development. “We moved him aggressively, and he’s hitting in West Michigan.”

In his first 40 games in West Michigan (through Sunday), Crouch hit .295 with five homers, seven doubles and am .819 OPS.

“He hits everywhere he goes,” Garko said. “He hits for power. The catching is getting better. It’s his first year and he’s got a long way to go, but he really cares, really works.”

Crouch didn’t make MLB Pipeline’s ranking of the top 30 prospects in the Tigers organization.

But that will change if he keeps hitting — and keeps climbing through the system.

“We say all the time, guys can make themselves into prospects, and he’s certainly on his way to doing that,” Garko said.

Crouch is part of the reason why the Tigers feel good about their catching depth in the minors. Dillon Dingler, a 2020 second-rounder, is at Double-A Erie, and Eliezer Alfonzo, 22, has hit .305 in 274 games in the Tigers system, showing offensive production everywhere from rookie ball to High-A.

“With Dingler, Crouch and Alfonzo — that’s three pretty good young catchers,” Garko said. “You can’t have too much depth there.”

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Learning on the job

West Michigan manager Brayan Peña praised Crouch’s work ethic.

“There is nobody with more dedication and more preparation than Crouch,” Peña said. “Crouch is the first one to come in, and he’s the last one to leave. He’s the first one to ask questions. He’s the first one that wants to learn. We will finish a game and he’s asking, ‘Who’s gonna be the starter tomorrow?’ He goes over the lineup, and then he goes home and does his homework.”

A catcher himself, Peña played 13 years in the big leagues, including a stint in Detroit.

“It’s a very tough position,” Peña said. “It takes time, and obviously, you know, we are giving him all the opportunity to be successful. His improvement is very good. As a matter of fact, today, we were talking about stuff he’s been cleaning it up.

“Offensively, I always tell the catchers, ‘You guys will never hear anything about offense from me. Because I want you guys to understand that when you’re behind home plate, when you go out there, you should be concerned with leadership and communication with the pitchers.’ ”

“That sounds like A.J.,” I said.

“If our Big Boss, if that’s what he’s looking for, that’s what we’re shooting for,” Peña said. “That’s what we got to give him.”

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Pivot from the hot corner

Coming out of high school, Crouch played mainly third base and was committed to play at Florida International.

But he went to a professional tryout and a scout urged him to put on the catcher gear.

Just to try it out. He found out that he was a natural. But he is still learning the position.

“There is a lot that is being thrown at me but I love it,” Crouch said. “The coaches here are focusing on the mental side of catching, like pitch-calling, being able to work with the pitchers, writing scouting reports, being able to be on the same page before the game and then go and execute it during the game. You can work on the physical stuff all you want, the receiving and the blocking, but there’s a whole other side to it, being able to execute a game plan against the other team.

“So that’s been the huge jump for me, learning how to do that and study the other team. Then on the days I’m not playing, I’m taking notes on the other team, being able to write a scouting report for them to attack them, so that you learn everything.”

So that’s the important stuff.

If he hits, too?

That’s just a bonus.

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Contact Jeff Seidel: Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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