BURLINGTON, N.C.—It took 34 games, but Tim Beckham's first professional home run has landed.
In a Rookie-level Appalachian League game last night in Burlington (Royals), the Princeton (Rays) shortstop and 2008 No. 1 overall pick launched an 0-2 pitch over the left-field fence for a solo home run in the top of the first inning.
Beckham said he knew what pitch to look for when he hit the home run. After looking at a 90 mph fastball for strike one and fouling off a 91 mph fastball for strike two, Beckham fouled off a 77 mph breaking ball. The next pitch landed over the left-field fence.
"Hanging curveball," Beckham said. "He threw it the first pitch (before the home run) and I almost got it—I cut it back to the dugout—so I thought he was going to come with it again and he did, and I reacted when I saw it."
Dominican third baseman Burt Reynolds hit righthander Giancarlo De La Cruz's next offering over the left field fence to give Princeton a 2-0 lead, and the Rays added another run in the top of the ninth to hold on for the 3-0 victory.
The 6-foot, 188-pound Beckham, showed good speed by legging out an infield hit, and he showed promise in the field at shortstop both before and during the game. With one out and a runner on first base in the seventh inning, Burlington first baseman Diego Cruz hit a chopping grounder to second baseman Luis Marchena, who shoveled the ball to Beckham for the out at second base. The runner slid hard into the bag, but Beckham showed no fear. He received the ball, flew in the air and used his plus arm to fire a strike to first base for the double play while getting taken out at the base.
"He got me on my leg," said Beckham, 18, pointing to the damage in front of his lower left leg. "Our coach always tells us, 'Think where the ball is gonna hit. Try to visualize the way it's gonna hit before the play happens, kind of preparation, pre-play preparation.' I did that, and when the ball was hit, I reacted."
While taking ground balls during infield practice, Beckham showed good actions, a strong arm and plenty of athleticism, agility and quickness. He wasn't sure-handed or perfect with his accuracy, but he has the raw tools and ability to develop at the position.
Yet yesterday's 2-for-4 performance does not typify the season that Beckham has had so far. In 130 at-bats, Beckham is hitting .238/.299/.323 with 10 walks and 30 strikeouts. In Monday's game against Burlington, Beckham showed why he has struggled. Though he possesses outstanding athleticism premium bat speed and a short, quick stroke to the ball, Beckham is still getting the hang of professional pitching. In the first game of the Burlington series, Beckham struggled to recognize breaking pitches and changeups, striking out twice on changeups.
"The pitching every day is consistent; at least 88-95 (mph) every single day," Beckham said. "In high school, I probably topped out at 84, 85 what I saw. That wasn't even every day—the best in my region was probably 85. Summer ball, I mean, it wasn't like this. They threw hard, but they wasn't spotting up pitches like they do now, they didn't have the same offspeed as pitchers do now, so that's why I gotta make adjustments every day."
Both Beckham and manager Joe Szekeley said that the Rays have taken a hands-off approach with Beckham's offensive game thus far, letting him get acquainted at the plate using his own style while focusing on the growth of his defensive skills.
"I'm more calm in the field now," Beckham said. "When I field the ball I slow everything down. Once I fielded the ball in high school, I was getting it and getting it out. (I have learned) how to make adjustments to the runner, to the team, just slowing everything down (and) letting the game come to me.
"I don't think they expect a lot out of me right now, so I don't put pressure on myself. I just go about my business the same way, listen to my coaches, go 110 percent at practice every day and get better every day."
Beckham's brother Jeremy, the Rays' 17th-round pick out of Georgia Southern, helped Beckham get acquainted to pro ball before the Rays promoted him to short-season Hudson Valley in late July.
"It was great because he had his experience with four years of college, so everything he told me I listened to him," Beckham said. "He has more experience than me; he's been to college. While he was here, he helped me stay humble. He helped me work hard every day, reminded me to work hard every day, reminded me what I'm here for. I mean, it's why we got drafted—love of the game."
• Beckham wasn't the only prospect to watch on Princeton. Rays righthander Alex Colome, a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic, allowed just one hit in four shutout innings with one walk and six strikeouts. Colome maintained his 93-95 mph velocity through his four innings, complementing his fastball with an inconsistent 75-80 mph curveball that helped him record a few strikeouts and an 86-87 mph pitch that appeared to be a changeup. Even though Colome walked just one Royals batter, he did struggle with his control, which is why he has walked 24 batters in 40 innings this year.
• Burlington did have several young infielders with ability in the field, although none of them has hit much this season. Second baseman Angel Franco, an 18-year-old from the Dominican Republic, showed a strong arm and above-average speed. Third baseman Fernando Cruz, an 18-year-old from Puerto Rico who went in the sixth round last year, had an above-average arm but was not a clean fielder. Shortstop Yeldrys Molina, a 19-year-old from Venezuela, played well at shortstop, handling balls cleanly during the games and during infield practice. He hit at the bottom of the lineup but went 2-for-4 yesterday with a double and a pair of line drives pulled to the left side.