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: Jorge Alfaro
Birthplace: Sincelejo, Colombia
HT/WT: 6' 2", 185 lb.
Body type: Naturally athletic, but body is immature at present. Appears shorter than listed height, but could eventually reach solid 6' 2"-6' 3" with the frame to support 200-plus pounds. Has strong lower half, broad shoulders, and long legs/arms. Body at maturity could resemble that of a young Charles Johnson.
Intangibles: Hard worker that asks a lot questions; precocious. Transitioning to professional baseball while learning English (didn't speak any English before signing with the Rangers). Suffered setback (injury) at age 16 and worked hard to recover. Nothing but good reports about maturity and work ethic from other scouts, etc.
Abilities: Possesses plus-plus raw strength at the plate; can put on advanced displays of power in batting practice. While at the plate, Alfaro has a slightly open stance, with a 6" front-foot pick-up (foot plant is smooth and lands straight towards pitcher) and good back-foot rotation during load, allowing for good weight distribution and balance. During that load, his top hand starts shoulder high, and has a smooth drift and rotation, keeping his elbows close to the body during the swing. Alfaro is able to generate tremendous torque in his swing, with excellent hip/lower body rotation.
By keeping his hands inside, Alfaro has a quick path to the ball and will accelerate through the point of contact, allowing him to extend and drive the ball with authority; Alfaro can already flash 70-grade power. He shows some pitch recognition and location skills, adjusting his bat plane to square the ball, and using all fields without losing pop. On defense, his skill set is very raw, but very promising. His arm strength is his best attribute, with a legit 70 grade at present, and the projection to exceed that during his physical maturation. His quick feet, quick release, and plus-plus arm strength already give him POP times in the 1.85-2.00 second range, and he projects to routinely POP in the 1.80-second range as his footwork and throwing mechanics improve.
Despite not having plus straight-line speed, Alfaro has quick feet and good balance behind the plate, giving him a good foundation for blocking balls in the dirt and covering the plate. Alfaro is an extremely shy kid, but he doesn't let his age, language barrier, or cultural displacement, affect his ability to receive instruction or adjust to his surroundings.
Weaknesses: Very raw in most phases of the game. Alfaro flashes serious batting practice power, but the transition to game power is still years of development away. As described, when Alfaro can repeat his mechanics, his swing can offer glimpses of its future promise, but at this point he is wildly inconsistent. In game action, Alfaro's timing and balance are thrown off, for a number of reasons, most centering around his mechanical consistency; his front-foot pick-up will range from 6"-12"; his landing will be rushed and not in line to the pitcher; his hips will fire too early; the transition of weight to his back leg with be rushed or won't happen at all; his elbows won't stay close to his body and his swing will get long; he will stay too tall and stiff; he will pull his head during load, etc.
Every 17-year-old hitter has mechanical inconsistencies in their swing, so this isn't anything that development and professional instruction can't address. Because of the mechanical flaws and general inexperience, Alfaro struggles to make regular game contact, and this will probably be the case for several years. On defense, Alfaro shows a 70-grade arm, but his confidence in that arm is more advanced than his execution at this point; he is very aggressive, which is encouraging, but his situational awareness is immature, so he will attempt to back-pick runners and fire the ball around the diamond without consideration for situation or consequence. Alfaro has a tendency to overthrow his desired target, mostly the result of poor footwork and throwing mechanics, but he also rushes the process and will occasionally arm-whip the ball into the dirt.
At the present, his receiving skills are well below average; the tool is very underdeveloped but offers solid-average projection. His game-calling skills aren't even on the landscape yet, but as his knowledge of the position improves, and his confidence in the ability to communicate in both English and Spanish grows, his overall ability to work with pitchers and learn the nuances of the position will begin to develop. Alfaro doesn't offer much in the speed department, although he isn't slow for the position. His field awareness, as it pertains to baserunning, is below average at present, but like all phases of his game, will improve with experience and instruction.
Conclusion: Raised OFP grade three points based on defensive position/offensive projection. The 17-year-old Colombian catcher features the widest gap between present and future grades in the Rangers' system. On offense, Alfaro shows light-tower power in batting practice, spraying ball to all fields and projects to have 70-grade game power in the future. His hit tool is currently underdeveloped, as are most of his tools, but flashes enough promise that I can project him as a future .265-.275 hitter when he reaches developmental maturity.
On defense, his best weapon is his arm, which has a 70 grade at present, but might even grade out higher as he gains more strength. His overall defensive game is well below average, but his physical gifts and positive response to instruction allow for league-average projections at the very least.
Despite being one of the youngest and most unseasoned prospects in the system, Alfaro represents one of the biggest payoffs, with the tools (on paper) to emerge as a perennial All-Star-level player. However, this isn't a player that is going to explode through the minors with accelerated development. Alfaro is so raw that it might take him three seasons to reach full-season ball and to start showing actualized tools in game action, assuming, of course, that his raw tools can make the transition to live game action. Tool-based grade: 61; first-division starter at the major league level; All-Star-level talent.
*It should be noted that even though I was able to watch Alfaro in person (both in instructional situations and game-action) for over three weeks, this scouting report will require constant revision over the next few years. Attempting to put a player this young, and this raw, in a future box is extremely difficult, and it is extremely foolish to assume that this report is the exact recipe for his development. Basically, be patient with this kid. His development is going to follow its own path, so don't allow the future projections to cloud who the player is in the present.