Ex-top pick Tim Beckham has best chance to make Rays

Tim Beckham has had multiple setbacks since being drafted, including a drug suspension.
Tim Beckham has had multiple setbacks since being drafted, including a drug suspension.
Published Feb. 9, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Most of Tim Beckham's tale so far is about what has gone wrong:

How much better off the Rays would have been to instead take Buster Posey with the first pick of the 2008 draft. How badly Beckham messed up by getting suspended 50 games in 2012 for a second positive marijuana test. How much time, after reaching the majors in September 2013, he lost last season after blowing out his right knee.

But there may be more to the story.

Beckham heads to spring training this month with arguably his first — and certainly best — real chance to make the Rays team, either as the starting shortstop or a backup middle infielder.

"Without a doubt, the opportunity is there this year for Tim to impact our major-league club and play a key role in our season," vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. "Before the injury, he showed that he can play shortstop as well as anyone we have, and we're looking forward to seeing how he fits in with the other guys who may spend time at the position."

How that plays out will be one of the key topics of the Rays' spring.

Not all will be in Beckham's control. It depends on how veteran Asdrubal Cabrera looks at shortstop versus second base; what the Rays think of other middle infielders (Nick Franklin, Logan Forsythe, nonroster invitee Alexi Casilla, even Hak-Ju Lee, who has also been stalled by injury); and if the Rays can find a better shortstop externally (which could depend on free agent Everth Cabrera resolving his legal issues).

But as for the part that can be directed Beckham — who is entering his eighth season in the Rays' system but is only 25 — he is doing what he can. And that started with coming from his Georgia home in early December to begin working out at Tropicana Field, taking plenty of swings and ground balls from infield/bench coach Tom Foley.

"I felt like everyone here should know I'm down here early, I'm down here to work, I'm down here to win that spot," Beckham said. "I want to be that guy. I want to be the player I know I'm capable of being. And I want to maximize that. I want the guys to see me here around the stadium and let them know that I'm serious."

Despite his slow progress through the minors and falling prospect status, Beckham reached a breakthrough when he was called up in mid September 2013. He singled in his first big-league plate appearance and played in five games down the stretch as the Rays won a wild-card playoff berth.

But then came another setback when he tore the ACL in his right knee during a December workout and needed surgery. He didn't get back on the field competitively until late July and didn't rejoin Triple-A Durham until mid August, sporting a brace he still wears. Though he moved fine and played well into the playoffs, Beckham got passed over in September for a callup as the Rays instead took a look at Franklin.

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"You and I and everyone in Tampa (Bay) knows it's been a long ride for me," Beckham said. "I've had a lot of situations, a lot of tough pills to swallow. But you learn from those, and as a man, you never can lose confidence in anything you do. I've been through tougher life situations than I've had in baseball, and that kind of makes me who I am."

Having invested a $6.15 million bonus and seven years in Beckham, the Rays insist they remain eager to see.

"He's definitely had ups and downs in his career," Bloom said. "As much pressure as there has been on him since he was drafted, I don't think anyone expects more of Tim than he does. As with any high school draft, there's a maturation process, but from Day 1 he's been one of our hardest workers.

"At the end of '13, he looked ready to break through, and then of course he got hurt. He's shown us the bat speed and athleticism to be an everyday big-leaguer, and we're really looking forward to watching him this spring."

Focused on the starting shortstop job, Beckham plans to give the Rays something to see.

"It hasn't been all fine and dandy, man, but I'm here. I'm here, I'm ready to play, and I'm ready to get after it," he said.

"I think about it every day. And I want it."