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: Engel Beltre
Birthplace: Santo Domingo, D.R.
HT/WT: 6' 2", 175 lb.
Body type: Fast-twitch athlete, with wiry frame and long limbs. Excellent physical projection; room for added muscle mass and strength.
Intangibles: Cocky and confident; works hard on the field; knows he is talented, which can be both positive and negative.
Abilities: Beltre shows potential for true five-tool talent. At the plate, his hit tool has plus projection; his hands and overall coordination are elite. Noisy pre-swing movement that start to calm during the load, Beltre allows his hands to slowly elevate then drift into an optimum position, giving him a quick trigger and smooth path to the ball. His contact rates are excellent thanks to his hand-eye coordination and bat control, and should allow him to continue to hit for average as he develops. Because of his fast trigger and bat control, Beltre can still make regular contact when fooled by pitch or on balls out of the zone. His overall approach at the plate is below-average, but his pitch recognition skills are solid, with ability to pick up the ball early out of the hand, especially against LHP.
A fast-twitch athlete with a wiry frame and deceiving strength, Beltre can produce plus bat speed giving him plus power potential down the line. While presently showing more slash than power, Beltre’s natural swing path has a slight upper-cut, giving him the necessary lift to utilize his swing/strength attributes and create 25-30 HR power at developmental maturity. On defense, Beltre has legit CF skills, with the instincts, arm, glove, and range to stick at the position. His arm is plus, with excellent raw strength and a quick release; his arm is strong enough to play in RF at the major league level. His throws have good carry and his accuracy has improved a full grade in the last year. His plus speed and overall athleticism give him above-average range at present, with good instincts and ability to read the ball off the bat.
On the bases, Beltre is still raw and overly aggressive at times, but has the potential to be a stolen base threat at the higher levels. On the make-up front, starting to allow instruction to enhance his skill set, rather than just relying on natural athleticism; raw tools are beginning to actualize into on the field baseball skills.
Weaknesses: Still raw, with wide gap between present and future grades. At the plate, Beltre can take himself out of counts by being too aggressive and rushed; he loves to swing. Despite having good pitch recognition skills, Beltre will guess too often, resulting in unbalanced swing mechanics and underwhelming contact. When he is unbalanced at the plate, his back foot doesn’t pivot or stay planted, his front foot will drift towards the 1B side causing his hips to open up too much, his left shoulder will dip causing a flat bat-plane, and he will lung at balls. Power is slowly showing signs of life, but often adopts more of a slasher swing, resulting in contact, but preventing him from driving balls and using the torque in his swing to create power.
On defense, Beltre has tremendous natural ability, but is still raw with his reads and routes, often relying on his closing speed to recover from a poor first-step. His arm is also very strong, but his accuracy is still a work in progress, although the lapses in accuracy have more to do with rushing the process than with poor throwing mechanics; playing within the speed of the game will come with maturity. His speed is plus, but his first-step quickness isn’t elite level, which prevents even faster times to 1B and base running effectiveness. While I don’t think his make-up is an issue, he has been benched in the past for ignoring instruction and his role in a bench-clearing brawl calls his overall sportsmanship into question. Honestly, I don’t take issue with it. Needs overall game refinement and to find the balance between natural aggressiveness and a smart on-the-field approach.
Conclusion: Didn’t change OFP grade. Beltre is a rare prospect that features average-to-plus projections across the board; legit five-tool talent. At the plate, Beltre uses his plus-plus coordination and athleticism to make regular contact; that, along with his speed, should allow him to hit for average at higher levels. He has above-average power potential, but the development will depend on the maturity of his overall approach at the plate and his ability to utilize his natural swing/strength. On defense, his tools give him the potential to be an above-average defender in CF, with plus arm strength, a solid-average glove, and excellent recovery speed.
His overall game needs refinement, but his raw tools are showing signs of maturity and have begun the process of actualizing into on-the-field baseball skills. With the ability to hit for average, flash plus power potential, steal bases, and play above-average defense at a premium defensive position, Beltre has the tools to become a very, very good major league player. Tool-based grade: 58; first-division starter at the major league level.