PORT CHARLOTTE — Discussions about Rays infield prospect Tim Beckham often start with a comparison to Buster Posey.
To this point, it's pretty one-sided: Beckham, taken first overall in the 2008 draft, has yet to do much even at the Triple-A level, his progress further slowed last year by a 50-game drug suspension. Posey, a catcher taken four picks later by the Giants, is now an All-Star and league MVP with two World Series rings.
But from the Rays' perspective, there is going to be more to the story.
First, Beckham is only 23. He has impressed them with his hard work. And he's getting pretty darn good.
"I'm really seeing a guy that can be a major-league middle infielder," manager Joe Maddon said.
Beckham, undeterred by all the criticism, insists he definitely can be.
"Just because my career has not gone as fast as some people thought it would, I'm not going to lack confidence," he said. "I'm not going to think down on myself at all. I know I can play for years to come. It's just a matter of time. And I can say that with confidence. I know that."
Realistically, he's not that far away.
His once-shaky defense has improved, and though it seemed onerous when the Rays moved him off shortstop to also get time at second base (and make room for higher-rated prospect Hak-Ju Lee), the versatility has made Beckham more valuable. It's possible he eventually could be tried in the outfield, too. His athleticism has always been impressive and attitude good.
All that's left, Maddon said, is showing he can handle himself — consistently — with the bat.
"He can play here right now on the field and on the bases; he can't play here yet consistently offensively," Maddon said. "Once he's able to do that, have a consistent approach and understand what he's doing at the plate, he could play here consistently."
The Rays remain confident he can make the requisite progress.
Triple-A Durham manager Charlie Montoyo praised Beckham's determination, dedication and first-to-the-ballpark/last-to-leave work ethic.
"He's going to get better just because he wants it," Montoyo said.
Plus, Maddon said, Beckham seems to be at the point where he not only grasps what the Rays want him to do — such as shortening his swing — but accepts it.
"I think he's at the point now where the things we're saying to him are beginning to make sense," Maddon said. "He looks great. … I'm really excited."
Beckham is headed back to Durham, which could turn out to be a positive because it will be the first time he'll repeat a level in the Rays system and will give him a chance to catch up, as he often has been among the youngest players on each team.
"That does matter," Maddon said. "From an age component, experience and just self-confidence — that he'll walk into this place, and, 'I've been here before, I can do this, etc, etc.' "
Most of last season turned out to be a waste. Two weeks in, Beckham was suspended 50 games — reportedly for a positive test for marijuana — and played in only 59 games after his return, hitting .268 with six homers and 23 RBIs.
Beckham, who signed for a team draft record $6.15 million, heard plenty about his transgression, publicly and privately — "My dad ripped me up pretty good" — and said there was definitely another lesson learned: "I did a crime and served the time for it."
It also made those negative comparisons worse, but there's no point in Beckham engaging in that conversation.
"If I'm worried about what everybody thinks of me," he said, "it's just going to make it harder on me."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]