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Tampa Bay Rays top draft pick Tim Beckham getting the most out of his first major-league camp

PORT CHARLOTTE — You watch how smoothly Tim Beckham moves around the field. You hear the raves about his work ethic. You see how much stronger and more athletic he is.

But what you notice more than anything is the smile that seems to always be on his round face.

"Yeah," Beckham says, "I smile a lot."

He has reasons, of course, starting with the $6.15 million bonus the Rays gave him as the top pick in last year's draft. Then there's the chance he's getting this spring, as part of his contract, to attend major-league camp.

A just-turned 19-year-old shortstop — a child of the '90s, for gosh sakes — working alongside, picking up tips from and picking the brains of Rays veterans such as Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford, and younger players such as Evan Longoria and David Price, who went down a similar path.

"It's great, obviously, to be around all these big-leaguers," Beckham said. "I just pay attention to detail, look at what they do, look at their preparation. I've picked up a lot already."

The Rays liked him enough to make him the No. 1 pick and were pleased with his first pro season, in which he hit .243 with two homers and 14 RBIs at rookie-level Princeton before a late promotion to Hudson Valley.

But they are really impressed with the progress he has made, improving his defense and refining his hitting approach to use the full field and maximize his power, and the potential he has shown. Realistically, he's at least a few years away, likely headed to low Class A Bowling Green for his first full-season experience, but the Rays plan to take a look at him in some early exhibitions.

"This guy's going to be good," manager Joe Maddon said. "This guy's going to be really good. The difference between when I saw him last year in that (post-draft) workout and now, it's incredible just in regard to his strength level, and the bat quickness is superb. He's really exciting."

Beckham apparently likes what he sees, too, especially in the mirror. He had his last name tattooed across the back of his broad shoulders and custom stitched into the seats in his Range Rover, just two of a handful of subjects the Rays have teased him about.

"He's confident," said Bartlett, the starting shortstop. "I know he talks more than I would if I was 19; I'd be a little intimidated, I guess. He's pretty confident in his ability. And he should be; he's got a lot of talent."

"He's not lacking (confidence)," Crawford said. "But you go find an 18-year-old that was drafted No. 1 that wasn't like that. That's everyone drafted No. 1."

The Rays have had mixed results, taking Josh Hamilton first overall in 1999 and Delmon Young in 2003 with things not working out so well, but also Price last year.

New DH Pat Burrell, the No. 1 overall pick in 1998 by the Phillies, said Beckham seems to be handling it well.

"When you walk into that clubhouse for the first time, you're not sneaking up on anybody," Burrell said. "From what I've seen, I think he's going to do fine. It seems like he has a good head on his shoulders. You've got to remember, he's 19 years old. When I was 19, I was going to class (at UM), so it's different. You've got to make sure you handle it the right way because he is young, and you want to make sure he has the right people around him."

Longoria, the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft and the 2008 AL rookie of the year, has been serving as something of a mentor, as Eric Hinske did for him last year. "He's got a good personality, and he's easy to talk to," Longoria said. "It seems like he's listening to what you have to say, and that's one of the biggest things."

That, and the big smile.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

Fast facts

Hey, 19

Tim Beckham is a child of the 1990s, having just had his 19th birthday a few weeks ago. What a few other Rays were doing 19 years ago:

LHP Brian Shouse: Drafted and playing rookie ball for the Pirates. "I have a 16-year-old, so he could almost be my kid," Shouse said.

RHP Troy Percival: Drafted out of Cal-Riverside.

RHP Jason Isringhausen: Playing at Lewis and Clark Community College

RHPs Chad Bradford, Joe Nelson: In high school

, Adviser Don Zimmer: Managing the Cubs

Coaches Tom Foley and Dave Martinez: Teammates in Montreal

Tampa Bay Rays top draft pick Tim Beckham getting the most out of his first major-league camp 02/23/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 10:04am]
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