2009 Prospect Duds: Engel Beltre

Engel Beltre entered 2009 as the seventh-best prospect, according to Baseball America, in a very deep Texas Rangers minor league system. The five-tool outfielder was originally given a large contract by the Boston Red Sox to sign as a non-drafted amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. Beltre was sent to Texas in the trade for reliever Eric Gagne in 2007.

Oozing with tools, he hit .283 with 31 steals at low-A in 2008 as an 18 year old, which excited some prospect evaluators – especially those that all but ignore statistics and prefer to focus on projection based on what they observe. However, Beltre’s 15 walks in 566 at-bats (2.66 BB%) were a huge red flag for some, myself included. Prior to the 2009 season, I stated, “…His plate discipline is terrible… That approach is obviously not going to cut it at the upper levels of the minors, or the Majors, but Beltre is just 19-years-old and has plenty of time to improve the rougher aspects of his game.”

Youthful aggression is one thing; a sub-3.0 BB% is a whole other ball game. On the plus side, unlike someone like Seattle’s Greg Halman, Beltre’s pitiful walk rate was not coupled with an outlandish strikeout rate. The Texas prospect’s strikeout rate was 18.6 K%, which (kind of, sort of) eased some of the worry. Here is what Baseball America had to say about him pre-2009, “He’s a free swinger who must improve his patience and pitch selection… Beltre remains raw but his development is well ahead of schedule and his upside is enormous. Down the road, he could be a five-tool superstar center fielder.”

Well, that definitely did not happen in 2009. Still a teenager at 19, Beltre hit .227/.281/.317 in 357 at-bats in high-A for an OPS of .598. A BABIP of .282 certainly did not help, but his walk rate remained far too low at 4.5 BB% and his strikeout rate rose a bit over 2008 to 21.6 K%. Along with his terrible plate approach, the left-handed hitting Beltre cannot hit southpaws. He hit just .209/.254/.306 against them in 2009 and also posted a line of .220/.257/.262 in 2008. For some reason, the organization decided to give Beltre a late-season taste of double-A but he hit just .071 (1-for-14) in four games after coming back from a broken hamate bone.

There is no doubt that Beltre has some impressive tools. Unfortunately, many a prospect has disappeared in the bowels of obscurity despite as much – or more – raw talent. Beltre should definitely return to high-A ball in 2010 and remain there until he makes some adjustments with his approach.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

7 Responses to “2009 Prospect Duds: Engel Beltre”

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  1. Phil B. says:

    Looks like a lot of the Rangers system was way over-rated. What will their system be ranked now ?

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    • t ball says:

      Who else do you suggest was overrated? I think the better explanation is that 2008 was a year when everything went right for most prospects, 2009 was almost the opposite. Beltre will drop precipitously in the rankings despite all the graduations.

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  2. Phil B. says:

    Hmm. Holland, Main, Teagarden, Max Ramirez, Hurley, Madrigal, Vallejo are a few off the top of my head who were in the Rangers top 20 I think. I can check the list later.

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    • Ben George says:

      Lets see..

      Main, freak illness. No one every could figure what it was, but supposedly he is finally cured.

      Blake Beavan, can’t stike anyone out in A+ or AA and still holds his own

      Ramirez, 2 wrist injuries and got screwed in the WBC

      Hurley, Shoulder surgery before the season ever started

      Vallejo, was considered a future UT guy now and Astro

      Madrigal, bullpen arm that was very hit and miss. Needs to learn consistency. 2.57 ERA in AAA and a 9.00 at the MLB level.

      Beltre, injured off an on all season, all potential that may or may not materialize.

      Teagarden, injured off and on, no consistent at bats

      Holland, Probably rushed to the majors, had some great and not so great outings. I have hard time considering him overrated. Had as much or more success at points in this season as David Price.

      Justin Smoak, Oblique injury that hurt his second half power numbers

      Martin Perez….. Not much to say about him unless you are worried he was moved fast.

      I am starting to see a common theme here. Maybe Texas may need to spend more on injury prevention and people need to understand that a lot of these guys are very young….

      I think people are getting to tied up in the numbers and are forgetting that the Texas minor league teams are dramatically younger at each level than most. You should expect a lot of the teams in their minor league system to struggle.

      I think Tball said it best referring to the fact that last year everything did turn out perfect. This year, not so much. Texas still has an EXTREMELY deep stable of arms and a few very nice bats in the pipeline.

      Besides it will be very hard dismiss Texas minor league system that leads off with Felliz, Smoak, Perez, Scheppers, and Borbon

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  3. Dirty Water says:

    I don’t like this series with its use of ‘dud’ and 18-22 yo’s in the title. It undermines a supposed understanding that it takes years for young ballplayers to hone their skill.

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  4. Green Tea says:

    This article was written way too premature. This article was written when beltre was 19. Last time i checked 20 year olds that are tearing up AA in one of the best farm systems in baseball are STUDS. Wait until they are atleast 22 before he even considering that they will be a bust

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  5. Green Tea says:

    oh and another note about the proclaimed overrated rangers farm system-

    Elvis Andrus- 20 year old mlb all star short stop
    Neftali Feliz- 20 year old mlb closer
    Tommy Hunter- Starting Pitcher with a (8-1) record
    Julio Borbon- Starting centerfielder (23 yo)
    Alexi Ogando- sub-1.00 ERA
    Justin Smoak- Starter before being traded

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