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.
Julio Borbon's Grades:
Julio Borbon was drafted in the supplemental first round (35th overall) of the 2007 amateur draft. A surefire first round pick going into his junior season at the University of Tennessee, the Dominican native saw his draft stock slip, thanks in part to a broken ankle suffered before the start of the spring season that greatly affected his normally plus athleticism. After signing a major league contract that included an $800,000 signing bonus, Borbon had an alarmingly pedestrian nine-game run in the rookie-level Arizona League and the Low-A Northwest League to close out the '07 season.
Starting the '08 season at High-A Bakersfield, Borbon quickly showed why he was considered the top center fielder available in his draft class by stealing 36 bases in 66 games while flashing Gold Glove-quality leather in the outfield. A promotion to Double-A Frisco in late June saw Borbon continue to blossom as a hitter, putting up a .337 batting average in 60 games while slugging a professional high of .459.
The knock against Borbon's offensive game is that he lacks power projection and doesn't have the plate discipline to excel as a lead-off hitter at the higher levels. It's true that his power projection is limited, but his game is not completely void of power. Borbon has the physical strength necessary to hit for moderate power at the major league level, but his swing mechanics often make him more of a slap hitter who isn't able to produce the necessary bat speed to hit for much power. As is often the case, when Borbon is fooled on a pitch, he becomes an upper-body swinger, failing to generate much force with his lower half. When this happens, Borbon's swing is rather lifeless, resulting in weak contact.
Despite having less-than-ideal swing mechanics, Borbon is still able to maintain above-average contact rates. Borbon's ability to make consistent contact, in combination with his 70-grade speed, should ensure that he is able to maintain a high batting average at the major league level. However, his ability to become a legit lead-off hitter will be determined by his approach at the plate. Leading up to his uncharacteristic performance in the '08 Arizona Fall League (which saw Borbon walk 17 times in just 24 games after walking only 29 times in his previous 126 games), Borbon's aggressive approach was limiting his projection as a true lead-off option. After making a more patient approach a priority in the AFL, Borbon flashed the potential by producing an on-base percentage of .404. Progress.
On defense, Borbon uses his speed and instincts to flash Gold Glove-level potential in center field. His reads are still a work in progress, but his range is already outstanding and his work ethic all but guarantees that he will be able to maximize his defensive skill set. His arm is slightly below average, but his hand-to-glove transfer is smooth and his throwing mechanics are sound, so I don't think that his arm will limit his overall ability in center field.
The foundation of Borbon's game is speed. More often than not, players that fit into that box have deficiencies in their skill sets that prevent them from becoming valuable major league regulars. It stands to reason that if your offensive skill set is insufficient, your value to a team, especially in a starting role, will be limited in spite of your defensive abilities. It has yet to be determined whether Borbon's ability to make contact with a baseball will translate to the major league level, but if his performance during the '08 season and the subsequent Arizona Fall League is any indication, Borbon just might surprise some people with his offensive chops.
Look for Borbon to start the '09 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, with a shot at reaching Arlington at some point during the summer. He still profiles as a slasher type with gap-to-gap power who should eventually be able to hit 5-9 home runs a season to go along with 25-plus doubles and a hearty serving of triples. If he can continue to refine his approach while maintaining his impressive contact rates, Borbon should be able to hit in the .285-.300 range and reach base at a 34-35 percent clip. While I don't think Borbon will ever become the prototypical top-of-the-order threat that many Rangers fans envision, I do believe that he will be able to offer league-average offensive production while providing above-average defense in center field. That, despite what the slightly disappointing tone to this report might suggest, has tremendous value.