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Tampa Bay Rays prospect Tim Beckham struggles to find his groove

ST. PETERSBURG — There are plenty of indicators to suggest that Tim Beckham hasn't shown enough progress since the Rays made the shortstop the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Certainly one was Buster Posey, whom the Rays passed over at the time and who led the Giants to the World Series title this past fall — while Beckham toiled in Port Charlotte in the instructional league.

The acquisition of prized prospect Hak-Ju Lee in last week's trade with the Cubs as the potential new shortstop of the future could be considered another. So, too, would be Beckham's tumbling ranking by Baseball America among Rays prospects, from second to sixth to 15th this year (to 19th after the Cubs trade).

And perhaps most telling is Beckham's own performance in his 2½ pro seasons no higher than Class A — a .263 average with minimal power (12 homers), a pedestrian .703 OPS and defense in need of improvement (81 errors in 277 games).

But for the Rays, who have been patient and positive since signing him for a then-record $6.15 million bonus, the true measure is coming this season as Beckham, who turns 21 later this month, makes an expected move up to Double-A Montgomery.

"This will be the telltale year," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "He would have liked to have seen himself do better, and all of us would have liked to have seen him do better. But you take into consideration that he was a young pick, that the journey is a tough road. He has made progress every year. He has the ability, great work ethic, he's a great athlete. We think he can be a good major-leaguer player. We'll find out this year."

But as the No. 1 overall pick in a draft that also included current big-leaguers Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), Brian Matusz (Orioles), Gordon Beckham (White Sox), Ike Davis (Mets) and Daniel Schlereth (Diamondbacks) and a host of advanced prospects, Beckham is expected to be more than good. And actually, for the pick not to be considered a mistake, probably great.

Beckham, attending this week's winter development camp with top picks from the past two drafts, remains confident he is going to reach that potential.

"I don't feel like it's been disappointing," Beckham said. "I feel like I've been through my ups and downs, and I feel like I finished last season (at advanced Class A Charlotte) pretty strong. I'm looking forward to this spring and this season."

That feeling is not universal. Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis called Beckham's development "puzzling" and doubts that he'll stay at shortstop.

"Beckham was supposed to be a potential five-tool shortstop, or at least a four-tool shortstop with average speed," Callis said. "But after three pro seasons, it's pretty evident he won't be a shortstop because he has fringy speed and isn't athletic enough to stay there long-term. And that presents a problem, because the best fit will be third base, and he hasn't shown he can hit enough to be a regular there."

Plus the Rays have All-Star Evan Longoria entrenched there, so the outfield might be the better option, as B.J. Upton found. Lukevics said there has been no talk of changing Beckham's position and notes his improvement as he cut his errors from 43 in 2009 at Bowling Green to 25 last year.

The Rays' bigger concern is the lack of offensive production. Beckham hasn't hit for average or power, and he hasn't shown much plate discipline, averaging nearly a strikeout a game (279 in 296).

"He needs to show coming into this year that he's become a better hitter," Lukevics said. "I don't want to put any more expectations on Tim than he puts on himself, but he needs to show what type of hitter he's capable of being. He's made strides defensively, but the bat is going to carry him."

Beckham recently spent more than a month at the Athletes Performance Institute in California (in part on the advice of former Ray Carl Crawford) to work on quickness and strength and on maintaining what he considers the ideal playing weight of 195 on his 6-foot frame. His trainer, Chang Lee, was impressed, noting Beckham's quickness and agility and calling him "a diamond that's not polished yet."

Beckham is aware of the criticism, though he naturally doesn't make much of it. "If they doubt me, they doubt me," he said. "I care what other people think, but they're not out here playing with me.

"I know what I'm capable of, and hopefully everybody that drafted me knows what I'm capable of. It'll happen. Oh yeah, it'll happen."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Spring schedule

Where: Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte, 33948. Phone: (888) FAN-RAYS (888-326-7297)

Tickets: Season: $255-330; Individual: $8-27. On sale today.

(All games 1:05 unless noted otherwise.)

February

26: Pirates

27: at Pirates

28: Pirates (ss)

March

1: at Orioles

2: at Blue Jays

3: Yankees

4: at Twins

5: Twins

6: at Phillies (ss)

7: at Pirates

8: Blue Jays

9: (ss): Blue Jays

10: Red Sox

11: Pirates

12: at Phillies (ss)

13: at Blue Jays

14: off

15: Marlins

16: at Marlins

17: at Yankees, 7:05

18: Red Sox (ss), 7:05

19: at Twins

20: Orioles

21: Yankees, 7:05

22: at Red Sox, 7:05

23: Phillies (ss)

24: at Astros

25: Pirates

26: Orioles

27: at Pirates

28: at Yankees, 7:05

29: at Red Sox

30: Blue Jays (at Tropicana Field), 4:10

. fast facts

Bust-er scale

The Rays took SS Tim Beckham ahead of C Buster Posey, left, in the 2008 draft, but they weren't the only team to pass on the FSU product:

Pick Player, team 2010 level

1. SS Tim Beckham, Rays A

2. 3B Pedro Alvarez, Pirates Majors/AAA

3. 1B Eric Hosmer, Royals AA/A

4. LHP Brian Matusz, Orioles Majors

5. C Buster Posey, Giants Majors/AAA

Tampa Bay Rays prospect Tim Beckham struggles to find his groove 01/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 9:53pm]

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