The following series will count down the 25 highest ceilings (based on AOFP grades) in the Rangers' minor league system. I have scouted every player on the list in person and compiled the grades using those observations, conversations with respected voices in the Rangers' community like Lone Star Dugout's Jason Cole, and conversations with numerous scouts. Being a subjective exercise, opinions will vary on the individual tool grades, and ultimately, on the final tool projections.
Before we discuss the scouting scale and my methods of evaluation, it's important to note that the AOFP-based rankings below differ from the prospect rankings you may be more accustomed to seeing. The grades here are based on raw tools, and aren't intended to capture each player's most realistic ceiling. Age, league, and other contextual factors are generally excluded, although younger players have more room for development and therefore can receive the benefit of such an abstract view.
It should also be noted that this series was designed to highlight players currently playing in the Rangers' minor league system. For example: a player like Neftali Feliz, whose composite grades would rank him in the top tier of prospects in the system, will be excluded from this list because he is currently on the 25-man roster and not likely to spend any time on the farm.
The Scouting Scale/Methods:
For each tool (hitter) or individual offering (pitcher), a scout assigns the player a grade on a numerical scale that runs from 20 to 80 in five-point increments. 50 is major-league average, and 80 represents the top available score. The sides of the tool bell curve are extremely steep, and there's not much space beneath the curve's tails. In other words, there are very, very few players with 80-caliber tools, and lots of prospects whose tools score a 50. Because of this, scouts may also assign qualitative descriptors (e.g., "fringe-average," "solid-average") to modify scores of 50 that don't quite warrant a bump down to 45 or up to 55.
The scout averages the tool grades to produce an "Overall Future Potential" (OFP) grade. (As a result, OFP also has a 20-to-80 range, but isn't limited to scores ending in "5" or "0.") After OFP is calculated, a scout can adjust it based on his observation, experience, and intuition. This results in an AOFP: the "A" stands for "adjusted." An AOFP above 60 is generally indicative of an elite prospect: a guy with the potential to star in a championship-caliber lineup, rotation, or bullpen.
An AOFP of 55-59 typically implies a prospect that will be a first-division starter, including a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter, front-line reliever, or second-tier closer. AOFPs in the 50-54 range suggest a solid-average major leaguer, including back-of-the-rotation starters and some late-inning arms who fall just below having "front-line" status. Players with AOFPs lower than 50 are usually fringe-average players like utility infielders, fourth/fifth outfielders, and middle relievers. Not a single player on this list will have an AOFP below 54.
Name: Chad Bell
Birthplace: Knoxville, TN
HT/WT: 6' 3"/200 lb.
Arm action: Good
Delivery/Mechanical characteristics: Clean; High 3/4
Physical description: Tall and proportioned with strong base and core; physically mature
Abilities: Well-balanced arsenal with polish and control projection. FB is sneaky with good velocity for lefty and some natural sink. CU has some fade to the armside and velocity variance at 80/81. CB is very promising pitch with good play off FB and tight, vertical break. Command of the CB is best secondary attribute. Fields position well and has a good move to 1B.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t offer much projection, with tools nearing a developmental peak. Doesn’t stay on top of CU resulting in a flat-plane pitch; needs to stay in arm-slot and remain mechanically consistent in order to play off FB. FB/CB combination can miss bats and induce weak contact, but needs to avoid nibbling and trust sustainable velocity. With runners on, can be deliberate to plate with multiple 1.55-1.65 release times. Has tendency to fall off toward 3B in follow-through and doesn’t always use size and high arm-slot to pitch downhill.
Conclusion: Didn't change OFP grade. Polished collegiate lefty with plus CB potential, slightly above-average FB grade, and a CU that should eventually grade out as solid-average/slightly above-average. Lacks elite stuff, but can change speeds with FB and locate his CB in any count against both LH/RH. Needs overall command refinement and trust in CU will help in sequencing and overall pitch deception. Tool-based projection: 54; solid-average #4/#5 starter at the major league level.
[Special thanks to Deric McKamey, Josh Garoon, and Joey Matschulat. Follow me on Twitter @ProfessorParks.]