When deciding whether or not to go forward with this series, I relied heavily on those already in the scouting world for advice. Scouting players is a very difficult challenge, and despite my egotistical belief in my own ability, I'm not foolish enough to think my analysis is the final word.
However, I have been able to see most of the players in the Rangers' system, and I have had the opportunity to discuss the abilities of those players with people in the business of talent evaluation. It is from those discussions and from my own observations that these scouting reports were crafted. Scouting isn't an exact science, and I'm sure there will be differing opinions on the grades, but I'm confident that all of the analysis presented here will be completely objective and accurate to the best of my ability.
Former Baseball HQ prospect writer and current member of the St. Louis Cardinals scouting department, Deric McKamey, on how players are graded by scouts:
Scouts grade players based on a 20-to-80 (or 2-8) scale, with 80 representing the highest achievable grade. The grade of 50 is considered major league average. Position players are graded in five categories (hitting, power, speed, throwing, and fielding), which are typically referred to as the "five tools." Players will also receive grades for base running, arm accuracy, baseball instinct, and aggressiveness, though they do not account as much for the final grade.
An amateur player or minor league player will receive two grades for each tool: a present grade and a future grade, based on how they are expected to perform in the majors. Future grades are added and then divided by the number of grades to determine their Overall Future Potential (OFP). A scout can then adjust a player's OFP by 10 points based on the lesser categories and their gut instinct.
Engel Beltre's Grades:
Acquired in the July 2007 Eric Gagne trade from the Boston Red Sox, outfield prospect Engel Beltre might have the highest ceiling of any position player in the system. His future tools all grade out as above average or higher, and if his approach at the plate takes a step forward, the Rangers could be looking at one of the best players in minor league baseball.
As a hitter, Beltre has a lot of work to do at the plate to reach his potential. His biggest weakness is his insatiable appetite for all pitches thrown in his general vicinity; he simply loves to swing the bat and isn't content unless he takes a cut. At this point in his professional career, Beltre would rather take his hacks and take a seat than keep the bat on his shoulder and walk to first. In 566 at-bats during the '08 season, Beltre took the free pass only 15 times. Even though he only struck out 105 times, a reasonable amount given the fact that he played the entire season as an 18-year-old, his strikeouts-to-walks ratio was so bad that it made Cristian Santana's ratio more palatable.
Despite the obvious issues with his approach, Beltre still has the ability to hit a baseball. His hitting mechanics are actually relatively sound with good balance, a quiet load, and a short stride, although he does have a tendency to get happy feet against left-handed pitching. His ridiculous hand-eye coordination allows him to make regular contact -- Beltre led the Midwest League in hits -- despite having less than stellar pitch recognition, often resulting in top-half swings. He's still quite raw in this phase of his game, but if he can control his natural aggressiveness and let the game come to him, I think he could eventually hit in the .270-.280 range at the major league level.
The area of Beltre's game that should start to blossom in '09 is his power. With impressive strength in spite of a thin, wiry frame, Beltre is able to generate considerable bat speed. His slight uppercut swing gives him the necessary bat plane to drive the ball and should result in more extra-base hits in '09. Assuming he develops the patience to utilize this tool, Beltre projects to hit 25-30 home runs at the major league level.
On defense, Beltre has a chance to be an impact player. His plus speed and baseball instincts give him excellent range in center field. His strong arm, which grades out as another plus tool, produces on-target throws with good carry. His fielding is still in need of refinement, but his desire to improve is evident and should eventually make him an above-average major league outfielder.
Not many players have Beltre's combination of raw athleticism and natural baseball instinct. He is a born ballplayer with the work ethic and professional desire to maximize his talent. Beltre is a star in the making, but he is still a long way from realizing his potential. He needs to learn to control his aggressiveness and improve his overall approach at the plate. It's imperative that Beltre learns the strategic elements of hitting. He has the tools to be great, but as John Sickels would say, he needs to start turning those tools into skills.