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Past, Present, Future: Engel Beltre

A look at the past, present and future of Rangers' centerfield prospect Engel Beltre

Engel Beltre
Engel Beltre

Engel Beltre: CF B-left T-left, 6'2" 180lbs ,11/1/89 (age 23)

Past: A native of Santo Domingo Engel, then just 17 years old, was acquired in the 2007 trade that sent Eric Gagne and his armoire full of secrets to the Red Sox in a deal that also included David Murphy and Kason Gabbard. A full-season starter since the age of 18, Engel has almost exclusively played centerfield. Now a few weeks past his 23rd birthday, Engel has played a rather remarkable number of games for a prospect. He's a healthy kid and suits up nearly everyday, even at a physically demanding position. At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Engel (pronounced like "angel") had played in 652 minor league games, amassing 2,882 plate appearances. And he plays winter ball in his native Dominican Republic! He was named the 2010 Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year, an award he accepted while wearing an ascot, and concluded that season by playing in both the Arizona Fall League and the Dominican Winter League. The kid has played a lot of baseball and to my knowledge has only had a slight left shoulder strain that put him on the DL for a few weeks in 2010.

Present: OK, here we go. The truth is, I've seen Engel Beltre play more times than any other player. I've probably written more about him, tweeted more about him, had both brief and lengthy conversations about him, than any other player. (certainly more than any player not named "Jurickson") 2012 was Engel's second full season at AA Frisco. I've probably seen this kid play around 45 times. I believe it was Scott Lucas who first referred to Engel as "mercurial", and there is perhaps no more apt description for him. Engel was recently awarded the 2012 MiLB Gold Glove for centerfielders. I know what we all think of "gold glove" awards, but if you put into perspective that the 8-spot players for all 120 minor league teams were in contention for this honor, Engel's achievement stands out as pretty damn impressive. His routes are crisp and his speed enables him to make the occasional spectacular catch in the gaps. Couple his catching ability with his speed and a + arm and you simply have a really good outfielder. As I said, he primarily plays centerfield stateside, but he's been comfortably handling both left and right playing for Licey in the DR. If you're reading this, you know his reputation at the plate precedes him. Arguably the worst approach in the Rangers' system, calling Engel a free swinger is like calling the Dodgers loose with their money. He doesn't take many pitches and despite a sometimes unbalanced swing, his plate coverage, bat speed, and surprising strength allow him to barrel a lot of the out-of-the-zone pitches his brain decides to swing at. On the bases he can be a terror to both the opposition and his own manager. In short, he goes for it. Singles stretched to doubles, doubles stretched to triples, stolen bases, you name it. Caught stealing, thrown out while advancing, doubled-off, picked off, you can name those too. He does it all. If you're more of a numbers person, howsabout some fun Engel stats? 2012 featured a slash of .261/.307/.420. Engel hit in the leadoff position nearly every game. Hang on, the numbers get more fun. He hit 17 triples (2nd in all of minor league baseball) and he stole 36 bases while being caught stealing 10 times. 13 long balls and 80 runs scored round out some of his numbers. 614 plate appearances yielded a measly 26 walks and a robust 118 strikeouts. In 2011 in fewer plate appearances (482), he had more walks (28) but still managed to strike out 103 times. Did I mention Engel likes to swing? Not too many baseball players can finish an entire season with nearly as many triples as walks.

Future: The crystal ball looks more like a crystal bong. There is no clear picture for Engel. I'm a prospect writer, not a scout. I track minor leaguers, often their every at-bat, but I've spent enough time around scouts to be profoundly humbled by what they see, and more often than not, what I don't see. But this one feels personal. As I said, I've seen Engel play what feels like a zillion times. He isn't like other players, who may have the desire but not the ability. Engel is the opposite of that. That's not to say he hasn't gotten even better as a player. He has absolutely become a better outfielder and hitter. His power emerged this season and 17 triples is just crazy talk. But has he changed his approach. No. His history of letting his emotions get the best of him borders on comical (within the organization, it probably isn't funny at all). The story you've heard about him throwing a trash can at fans during a game is true. I spoke with a front office official from another team who was there and called it "the craziest thing I've ever seen a player do". That was in 2011 and Engel received a lovely 15 game suspension not to mention a citation from the San Antonio Police Department for disorderly conduct. Yes, that is correct. A player received a ticket for the way he behaved...on the field...during a game. Nice. But that one doesn't sum up Engel as well as another. A quick YouTube search will reveal Engel. In June of 2010, a 20 year old Beltre hit a walkoff shot to give Bakersfield a win. It'd been a contentious game, but Engel's behavior during the trot must be seen to be believed. It too, resulted in a suspension, but he's lucky it didn't get him maimed. I feel confident in my claim that it's the only time a Rangers prospect has had a story (with video!) end up on The Huffington Post. He's 23 years old, on the 40-man, and chock full of options, so I think he clearly starts the year in Round Rock's outfield. The consensus on his ability is that he could be an everyday outfielder at the big league level for a long time. But with Engel it's not about ability. It never really has been. I was thinking about this piece while watching Licey a few nights ago, when Engel took a moment to mug for the dugout camera, while his team was losing, at home. A slight adjustment to his approach, both at the plate, and mentally to the game as a whole, would significantly alter his future. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments, unfortunately, sometimes it's also just a game of adjustments never made.

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