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: Neil Ramirez
Birthplace: Virginia Beach, VA
HT/WT: 6' 3"/190 lb.
Arm action: Very fast
Delivery/Mechanical characteristics: Some effort; comes across his body and falls off to 1B side; rushes his mechanics; high three-quarters delivery
Physical description: Athletic with prototypical size and strength; some projection left
Abilities: Can overpower hitters with explosive fastball and downer CB. His FB, thrown anywhere from 90-95 mph, has above-average arm-side run and natural explosion and deception from his release. CB often flashes a plus grade with good depth and 11-5 shape when he stays in his high slot. CU has positive moments with appropriate velo separation and some fading action away from left-handed bats. Athleticism gives hope to average command/control projection. Aggressive approach with some late-inning characteristics.
Weaknesses: Despite 100-plus innings of professional experience, Ramirez’s arsenal is still quite raw. FB velocity varies from pitch to pitch and game to game. His overall FB command is currently below-average as a result of his mechanical inconsistencies (release point, rushed tempo, throws across his body, soft arm-slot). When he struggles to stay on top of the pitch it straightens out and is either thrown for a ball or hangs up in the zone. CB has a tendency to flatten and float up in the zone as well, often breaking too early out of the hand. CU is currently a below-average offering that is recognizable and lacks ideal weight.
Conclusion: Raised OFP one point based on projected power arsenal out of the pen. Ramirez has the makings of two big league plus pitches, with a FB that could sit easy-plus and touch 96 mph in short bursts and a CB that would already grade out as a plus pitch if he was able to stay on top of it with any consistency. Control/command projection is average at best and CU is currently a below-average pitch with a chance of reaching fringe-average as he develops. With a late-inning mentality and a two-pitch power arsenal, I think Ramirez profiles better as a reliever. Tool-based grade: 55; front-line set-up man at the major league level.