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: Richard Alvarez
Birthplace: Valencia, Venezuela
HT/WT: 6' 1", 180 lb.
Arm action: Good; loose
Delivery/Mechanical characteristics: Good; clean and repeatable three-quarters delivery
Physical description: Athletic and slender, with room to add some mass/muscle as he continues to mature; lacks much strength at this point.
Abilities: Pitchability with some physical projection. Currently features a mid-80s FB with some movement (armside run and decent weight to pitch; solid-average grade), but projects to reach average velocity (89-91 mph) thanks to a loose arm and the projection for added strength. His CU is his best present offering, with heavy tailing action. The pitch, thrown very effectively off his FB thanks to consistent arm speed and slot, is currently a major league average pitch that should develop into a legit plus pitch.
His CB, another future plus pitch, can have wipeout qualities when thrown in the mid-70s and on a FB plane. With excellent depth and deception, the CB is an out pitch, thrown in any count against both LH/RH. Alvarez's entire arsenal plays-up thanks to his advanced feel for the mound, with a veteran's grasp of sequence and situation. Shows intelligence and work ethic. Athleticism allows for repeatable mechanics and above-average command/control projections.
Weaknesses: Doesn't possess overwhelming FB velocity or elite size/strength. Because of below-average present FB, Alvarez lacks aggressive approach and tends to fall in love with off-speed arsenal. Doesn't have projection for plus fastball, so margin of error is small. CU has plus potential, but Alvarez tends to overthrow pitch, often sitting in the low-80s, which only offers a few miles per hour separation from mid 80s fastball.
CB is too loopy in the 68-70 mph range; breaking too early out of his hand, showing clear path of the ball, rather than the deception that comes with the late, two-plane break of his mid-70s CB. 68 mph big bender is effective against short-season/Low-A hitters, but doesn't project to remain effective at that velocity against more advanced hitters. Ultimate ceiling is dependent on FB command reaching its potential; not a smoke-and-mirrors starter, but not a pitcher that can overpower hitters or afford to get loose within the zone.
Conclusion: Didn't change OFP grade. Alvarez is an athletic command/control pitcher with two plus potential secondary pitches and advanced pitchability. At present, his FB is below average, with velocity that usually sits in the 84-88 mph range, but projects to become a major league average pitch as he develops. His CU has plus potential, thrown with FB arm speed, with some tumble and tail, making it an effective pitch to LH. His CB has similar potential when he stays on top of it, showing excellent depth and the ability to miss bats.
Despite having a mature arsenal for a 17-year-old, Alvarez lacks the ability to overpower hitters, leaving him at the mercy of his command/control. If the command is sharp, and the FB can reach the 88-91 mph range, Alvarez's secondary pitches could carry him to the majors. If the fastball exceeds projection, Alvarez could be a star. Tool-based grade: 57; solid-average No. 2-3 starter at the major league level.
Post Script: Here is an interesting question to ponder when thinking about the Alvarez OFP: How many solid No. 2-3 starters at the major league level have average fastball velocities in the 88-90 mph range? Not very many. Last July, BBTiA's David Brown took a look at the connection between fastball velocity and pitching performance, with interesting results. Of the top 30 pitchers in baseball in terms of FIP, a remarkable 84 percent had average fastball velocities above 91 mph.
In fact, if you look at all pitchers with fastball velocities in the 87.5-90 mph range (Alvarez projection), the average FIP is almost a full run higher (4.52) than pitchers averaging 92.5 mph and above (3.54). What does this mean? Well, it means that with fringe-average/average fastball velocity, Alvarez will face long odds to reach his ultimate ceiling as a solid No. 2-3 starter at the major league level.
[Check out the entire collection of scouting reports here. Special thanks to Deric McKamey, Josh Garoon, and Joey Matschulat. Follow me on Twitter @ProfessorParks. Professor Parks is currently out of the country on a scouting trip, but will answer any/all questions/comments at his first availability. Apologies in advance for the delay in the response.]