Name: Engel Beltre
DOB: November 1, 1989
Acquired: 2007 trade from Boston with LHP Kason Gabbard and OF David Murphy for RHP Eric Gagne
Engel Beltre has been playing his second season in the High-A California League. He is playing his fourth season in the Texas Rangers organization.
But he may be younger than you think he is.
Though Beltre has been in his second go-around with Bakersfield, he was the league's third-youngest position player, as his 21st birthday isn't until November.
Beltre was promoted to Double-A Frisco after Wednesday's game in Stockton, and he immediately becomes the youngest position player in the Texas League––by nearly eight months.
Following a strong statistical showing with Single-A Clinton in 2008, Beltre disappointed with the Blaze in '09, posting a punchless .227/.281/.317 slash line in 357 at-bats. He missed approximately one-third of the season after being hit by a pitch and fracturing his hamate bone.
Despite the struggles last season, it was far too early to worry about Beltre's development as a player. And though Beltre is still plenty young, he is beginning to show some significant progress.
Beltre looked like a different player during Spring Training this year, impressing the Rangers in camp and earning time in six big league games as a backup. In seven plate appearances with the big club, he had one single and one walk.
"The experience was great," Beltre said. "It was a great time to be with Josh Hamilton, Julio Borbon and all those guys. Gary Pettis, the fielding coach there, was telling me good stuff, and he was trying to get me better.
"I'm just trying to get where they are at. I need to keep it going and not try to do too much. I want to get where they are at and stay there. I need to keep getting better every day."
Bakersfield hitting coach Jason Wood, who played 17 seasons of professional ball, believes Beltre is beginning to improve.
"I have seen a big difference [in his game]," said Wood. "Especially in Spring Training. He had a really good spring."
Playing every day in centerfield with the Blaze, Beltre came into his own offensively, batting .331 with 11 doubles, four triples, and five home runs in 68 contests.
After a slow start to his 2010 season, Beltre hit .347 in May before posting an excellent .406/.434/.536 slash line in 18 June contests.
When Beltre entered the Rangers' system, he was a slight-of-frame 17-year-old with plenty of physical projection. Now listed at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, Beltre is beginning to fill out, and Wood believes it's helping him develop.
"One thing he has gotten better at is that he has gotten more comfortable with his body," Wood said. "He has gotten a little bit bigger this year. He seems a little bit more comfortable."
Now that Beltre is maturing physically, the focus turns to refining various aspects of his game, such as hitting mechanics.
"We're tinkering with a few things as far as his hands," said the hitting coach. "We're trying to get his hands a little quieter."
But the primary adjustment Beltre will have to make is with his approach. A notorious first-pitch hacker, Beltre was benched at times in past years because he wasn't taking enough pitches.
"It's basically just pitch selection for him," Wood said. "It has been a problem in the past, and we're trying to tone that down a little bit. We don't want him to get too big during the course of his swing––just stay short. But obviously we want him to work on his on-base percentage."
Beltre agrees, and he's trying to become a more selective hitter.
"I think [my approach] is different," Beltre said. "Last year, I was swinging at too many pitches. Now I'm just trying to take more pitches––see more pitches. I'm trying to get more walks. That's a goal."
The Dominican Republic native walked just 15 times during his full season with Clinton in 2008. He had only 17 free passes in 357 at-bats last year in Bakersfield. This season, he has 11 walks in 68 games.
Though the walk numbers are below average––and they may always be––Beltre is taking a few more pitches and getting himself into better hitting situations, leading to a higher batting average and fewer swings and misses.
"We're tracking all the pitches he sees per night and per at-bat," Wood said. "A big thing for him is that we're mixing him into a few different spots in the lineup so we can get him comfortable. Like I said, we really want him working on that on-base percentage and seeing more pitches."
Another aspect of Beltre's offensive development is learning how to maximize his skills.
The prospect has some raw power, which he showed off by blasting nine home runs in just over 200 at-bats as a 17-year-old at the rookie level. But as he matures, Beltre is learning that he needs to use his speed more often.
"I'm not a power hitter," he said. "I'm a line-drive and gap hitter. I've got to play my game. I have to use my speed and try to get on base every time."
This spring, Beltre was beginning to change games with his speed, batting at the top of the order and consistently bunting for base hits.
"One thing he has to realize is that if he puts the ball on the ground, he can do a lot of damage," Wood said. "That's the one thing we're trying to pound into his head instead of hitting the ball in the air. Whatever you can do to hit the ball on the ground.
"If he hits balls to shortstop or takes bunts with him, there's a good chance he can beat the ball out. So that's his game and he needs to know what that is and to stay on the ground with it."
As Beltre improves his pitch selection and continues to hit the ball on the ground, he is also doing a better job of using the entire field. The 20-year-old can still pull the ball with authority, but he is learning to do what he can with the pitches he gets.
The vast majority of Beltre's base hits this season have been on the ground. The left-hander is going with pitches on the outer half, serving them into the opposite field for singles. When he gets a pitch over the middle or on the inner half, he can pull it with some authority.
Even if he isn't depositing balls over the fence, Beltre has proven his legs can still make a difference in the power numbers. He has four triples on the season and legged out an inside-the-park home run in Stockton earlier this year.
"It was my first inside the park home run since the Gulf Coast League, when I was with Boston," he said.
"When he didn't stop the ball, I said ‘You've got to use your speed.' Every time I got to a base, I just made sure I touched it. Sometimes you want to run over them."
Also See: Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jason Wood (May 1, 2010)
RMLN – Bakersfield bats end losing streak (April 30)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 27, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 19, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 18, 2010)
Top Prospects, Top Tools (February 11, 2010)
Prospect Videos: Beltre works a walk
Beltre grounds out
Beltre takes batting practice
Beltre hits a sacrifice fly
Beltre takes batting practice during Spring Training
Batting and Power: When Beltre signed with Boston for $600,000 in 2006, his raw tools––such as plus speed and raw power––drew [perhaps unfair] comparisons to athletic sluggers like Darryl Strawberry and Barry Bonds. But as he develops, Beltre is beginning to look more like a speed and contact guy that will hit for some power, instead of the other way around.
Beltre is currently learning about himself as a hitter, and that has been his biggest development thus far in 2010. As the above interview shows, he's realizing that he is best served using bat control and speed instead of simply swinging from the heels.
Though Beltre still isn't walking much––and he likely never will––he has been a bit more patient, allowing himself to see better pitches. The prospect has always had strong hand-eye coordination. Now that he is swinging at better pitches, he has been able to serve stuff on the outer-half into the opposite field for singles while going up the middle or pulling balls on the inner half with some more authority.
With his promotion to Double-A, the aggressive Beltre will likely need to tighten up his hitting zone some more. Whether he can do it successfully certainly isn't a given, but he has shown the ability to make the necessary adjustments with Bakersfield this year.
The Rangers hope Beltre is far from a finished product, as there is still plenty of room for development. He has more raw power than he currently shows in games, and he is beginning to flash a decent hit tool. As the hit tool progresses, the power numbers should eventually improve.
While he still isn't particularly close to the big leagues, Beltre's progression this season has provided plenty reason for optimism.
Base Running and Speed: Though his speed isn't quite elite, it's definitely a plus tool. Beltre can be a bit slow out of the batter's box at times, but he still makes most routine ground balls difficult propositions for opposing infielders. He is still refining his game as a base stealer, getting gunned down seven times in 17 attempts with Bakersfield this season.
Defense: Beltre's excellent speed and athleticism allow him to profile as a centerfielder, but his above-average arm strength also gives him the ability to play a corner spot if necessary.
He has spent time at all three outfield positions, playing the corners during Advanced Instructional League and in limited big league Spring Training action. Though Bakersfield teammate David Paisano is an excellent defender, the Rangers showed their confidence in Beltre by giving him the everyday job in center with the Blaze.
In '07 and '08, Beltre generally got by on sheer athleticism, making up for mistakes by running down fly balls with his speed. His route-running has improved with each year, and he is getting better jumps and reads off the bat. Beltre is also still learning how to utilize his strong arm––he sometimes doesn't get maximum carry behind his throws, and they aren't always accurate.
Overall, Beltre still has room for improvement, but he is showing consistent progression defensively. He profiles as an all-around plus defensive player that should save runs with his legs, glove, and arm.
Projection: Even if Beltre's bat never fully develops, his above-average speed and defensive skills could make him an asset to any big league club off the bench. But if he continues to progress, he could become a difference maker at the top of a major league lineup, putting pressure on the defense with his speed and saving runs with his glove.
There is still plenty of projection left in Beltre's game, and though he is now in Double-A, he isn't necessarily close to the majors. Beltre is showing signs of developing his raw tools into baseball skills, but he still has plenty of room for development both as a player and in his on-field demeanor, as the recent brawl against Visalia highlighted.
|2007||GCL Red Sox (RK)||.208||125||3||5||13||20||6/9||12||44||.310||.400|
|AZL Rangers (RK)||.310||84||3||4||15||19||3/5||8||21||.388||.583|
|2009||AZL Rangers (RK)||.300||10||1||0||0||4||2/2||0||3||.364||.600|