ST. PETERSBURG — Rays officials didn't really decide until sometime Wednesday afternoon that Griffin (Ga.) High shortstop Tim Beckham would be their top pick in this year's draft.
But after making the selection Thursday, scouting director R.J. Harrison flashed back to the first time he saw Beckham play, in a couple of showcase events last summer, and admitted that he knew something then.
"A lot of times it's that guy, the first time you see them, they get you," Harrison said. "What's that saying: 'They got you at go'?"
Actually, it's hello, but Beckham really didn't need any introduction. As Harrison watched Beckham dominate top-notch competition, comparisons immediately started popping into his mind, and they were an impressive group of impact players: B.J. Upton and brother Justin of the Diamondbacks; Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield, Arizona's Orlando Hudson and Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips.
"I felt there was a little bit of everybody from that group in this kid," Harrison said.
In picking Beckham, 18, over more mature Florida State catcher Buster Posey, the Rays went with the player with the higher upside, the one ESPN.com analyst Keith Law said had "the best chance of anybody in this draft pool to be a superstar."
The Rays drafted five others Thursday, including Arizona prep pitcher Kyle Lobstein with their second pick, and will continue through 50 rounds today.
Rays officials rave not just about Beckham's physical tools but his "advanced approach" to the game and his "genuine enthusiasm" for playing.
"We feel like he's got a great chance to be an impact player in the major leagues," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.
"We talk about high-ceiling players all the time," Harrison said. "This kid is already a really good player, and we think he's only going to get better."
Beckham sounded on a conference call equally excited — "It was crazy. I wanted to do a backflip in my room," he said of the "dream-come-true" news — and perhaps even more confident of his abilities as a player and as a team leader.
He said he expects to be in the majors within "two to three years," compared himself to Marlins star Hanley Ramirez as an all-around player and said in earlier interviews his goals went beyond just getting to the major leagues: "I hope to become an All-Star, and after that, I want to become a Hall of Famer."
The Rays are hoping he gets started quickly. Although they have no deal in place, they are optimistic he will sign quickly and start his pro career with their rookie level team in Princeton, W.Va., that opens play June 17. Although Beckham plans to meet with his advisers today, and probably not talk to the Rays until early next week, he sounded just as eager.
"As quickly as I can get it done, the happier I am," he said. "I'm ready to play ball."
The last high school player who was taken first overall was Justin Upton in 2005, and he got a bonus package of $6.1-million, though he was considered a better prospect. Beckham has the option of a college scholarship to USC and an Aug. 15 signing deadline.
"We're hopeful that it won't be something that will drag on throughout the summer," Friedman said.
Beckham, who had 53 hits (for a .482 average) and scored 58 runs in 36 games for Griffin High, is more advanced offensively than defensively, Friedman said, making it even more vital he starts playing quickly.
The Rays will give him the chance, at least initially, to stay at shortstop. They have, as Friedman said, "tremendous instructors on the minor-league side that are going to work with him" and are confident he has the talent and temperament to handle the position. But he could eventually move to second or third base or the outfield.
Any draft pick is a gamble, especially an 18-year-old from a relatively small Georgia town 40 miles south of Atlanta. But the Rays are confident in the way Beckham plays the game and lives his life that he was the right choice.
"We really, really felt strongly that this is a kid whose character and support system is such that he's not going to change," Harrison said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at