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.