The Los Angeles Dodgers were so taken with 15-year-old Adrian Beltre, from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, they just had to have him. No, really, the Dodgers, specifically scout Pablo Peguero and head of Dominican operations Ralph Avila, were so head-over-heels for the skinny kid with a great swing and dynamite arm that they signed him a year before he even turned 16, the minimum age for amateur free-agent signings, awarding him a $23,000 bonus in 1994. Beltre shot through the minor leagues quickly as he hit .317/.407/.561 with 26 home runs and 25 steals with Vero Beach in the Florida State League in 1997. He entered the 1998 season as “probably the best prospect in baseball overall,” according to the Baseball Prospectus annual, and would debut in the majors later that summer. The next year, Beltre’s agent Scott Boras got Major League Baseball to review the case about his age and as a result of their investigation into the matter the Dodgers were banned from signing any Dominican-born amateur free agents for a year and the team’s Dominican academy was also shut down for a year. The Dodgers were fined $50,000, and Peguero and Avila each served one-year suspensions. Still, Los Angeles did have Beltre, who was the youngest player in the National League when he made his major-league debut and quickly established himself as one of the best players on the team. Beltre was a budding star in the making and even though his time in Los Angeles involved more than a few growing pains after some solid-but-unspectacular seasons, he finally put it all together and broke out in 2004 with 48 home runs, 121 RBI, and a .334 AVG just as he was about to hit free agency. The Dodgers broke the rules to sign Beltre for their own benefit, but because he was such an advanced talent, he was the true beneficiary as he hit free agency at the age of 24.
The Mariners signed Beltre to a five-year, $65 million deal and he spent his age-26-30 seasons there. Over the course of the deal, Beltre hit above .268 once and failed to reach 20 home runs twice. In his last season with Seattle he missed 30 games due to bone spurs which required surgery and sapped his power. He finished the season with eight home runs in 111 games. Beltre was a better offensive player on the road throughout his time with the Mariners as Safeco Field also drained his power to an extent. A free agent once again, Beltre signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox to help rebuild his value and score him another hefty contract, which is exactly what happened as he hit .321 with 49 doubles, 28 home runs, and 102 RBI with Boston on his way to his first All-Star Game appearance. The Texas Rangers rewarded him with a five-year, $80 million contract.
While Beltre had already been fairly highly regarded among the statistically inclined who realized that playing so many games in Seattle earlier in his career held down his offensive production, his numbers with Texas were impossible to ignore. From 2011-2014, Beltre hit .315/.364/.530 while averaging 29 home runs, 94 RBI, and 147 games played. He made the AL All-Star team three times in that span and took home two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards.
What Went Right in 2015
Now 36, Beltre has seen his once outstanding power decline some. He hasn’t had an ISO above .193 since 2012 and his .166 ISO this year is nearly identical to his .168 mark from a year ago. Despite his age, Beltre finished the season very strong as he was white hot in September/October. From September 2nd through the end of the season, Beltre hit .341/.403/.561 with five home runs and 38 RBI in 31 games. In the last six games of the regular season, which were all at home, Beltre went 12-for-24 with two home runs, two walks, and 13 RBI.
What Went Wrong in 2015
Beltre couldn’t repeat his .324 AVG from a year ago, but that was more or less to be expected. His .345 BABIP went down to .295 and he finished with a .287 AVG this year, which, while still solid, is his worst mark since his last year in Seattle in 2009. Beltre’s 143 games played were also his lowest in some time (since 2011) as he sat earlier in the season with a thumb injury. While he had trouble staying on the field at times earlier in his career, the thumb injury doesn’t appear to be an issue with him going forward, which is good news.
What to Expect in 2016
Beltre is in the midst of a gradual decline, but because he’s coming down from being an absolutely great hitter, he’ll still be a very useful offensive third baseman. Beltre will be 37 next year and hasn’t reached 20 home runs in two years. Couple that with his AVG drop this year, and the possibility of him being undervalued by your league mates at the auction next year seems very real. Because of his track record, he’s the type of player who should be targeted until he absolutely doesn’t have it anymore, age be damned.
The Great Beyond
This is just one man’s opinion, but I don’t think Beltre has to do anything else on the field to be worthy of induction into the baseball Hall of Fame, especially considering the lack of depth at third base historically. He’s going to go down as one of the best 10 third basemen ever. Beltre is 11th all-time among third basemen in BWARP. I’ve had the privilege of seeing him play live and have come away very impressed. He’s an amazing talent, both in the field—with his glove work and outstanding throwing arm—and at the plate, where he puts everything into his swing and occasionally even drops down on one knee after a vicious hack these days. He plays through pain. But don’t you dare rub his head, or he’ll really get mad.
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