Draft Flashback: Josh Beckett Emerges As Latest Texas Fireballer

Josh Beckett, the No. 2 overall pick in 1999 by the Marlins—behind Tampa Bay’s selection of North Carolina high school outfielder Josh Hamilton at No. 1—has decided to retire at age 34. Beckett said he’d rather retire than have the necessary surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. His retirement ends a career that included two World Series titles, with the Marlins and Red Sox, and a no-hitter, which he threw in May.

Baseball America has been writing about Beckett since the late 1990s, when he emerged as the next great Texas fireballer. Here’s our story from the 1999 Draft Preview by Brian McTaggart, then a writer for the Houston Chronicle and now with MLB.com. If you’re a Baseball America subscriber, you can read all of our Josh Beckett scouting reports, from the time he was in high school to his swift trip through the minor leagues, on our Josh Beckett player page:

SPRING, Texas—A Lone Star legend? Josh Beckett isn’t ready to assume that status yet, but if you ask the Spring High pitcher he’ll tell you it may only be a matter of time.

Beckett is being billed as the next can’t-miss pitching prospect from a state that has produced more than a few. If you want to know how good he is, just ask the scouts. But if you want a better idea of what ignites Kid Heat’s fire, just ask the kid himself.

“I’m the best, buddy,” he said. “That’s why I’m so relaxed out there. You’ve got to have some arrogant bones in your body, especially to be a pitcher in the major leagues.”

Devil Rays scout Doug Gassaway, a Texas scout for more than 30 years, called Beckett one of the best he has seen. Gassaway’s organization has the first pick in the draft, though they’re not expected to use it on Beckett.

Josh Beckett at the 1998 Area Code Games

Josh Beckett at the 1998 Area Code Games (Photo by Wagner Photography)

Beckett went 10-1, 0.62 this season with 153 strikeouts, 31 hits and seven earned runs in 79 innings. For his career he was 32-6 with 482 strikeouts in three years. That career came to a stunning end May 14, when he allowed a season-high four runs and nine hits in Spring’s 4-3, nine-inning loss to Round Rock in the state playoffs.

Beckett’s star began rising last year, and Beckett mania soon followed. It was uncommon for groups of kids to clamor around his 6-foot-5 frame after games, handing him baseballs and caps to sign.

“Young kids are looking for role models, and they’ve just attached themselves to him,” Lions coach Kenny Humphreys said. “His name is out there.”

Early Notice

When Beckett enrolled at Spring, his stuff was good. But something magic happened after his freshman season.

“That’s when I first got noticed by scouts,” Beckett said. “I went that whole year on the JV and had some trouble in the classroom. It was tough because I wasn’t throwing that hard, 86 tops. That summer I was throwing 92 or 93. I guess it was puberty.”

There were rumors during his junior season that Beckett would leave high school early to enter the draft. It wasn’t that far-featched, considering he was 18 and could have been the No. 1 pick. He returned to high school but had little to prove.

“The scouts have seen all the good and they start looking for the bad,” Humphreys said. “It gets to the point where some of the people who have the lower picks start downgrading him so maybe the other people who pick ahead of them will let him slide.”

His laid-back approach has enabled him to handle all the pressure. But on the field, Beckett is an intense competitor. He no longer gets angry when he doesn’t strike everybody out, but he remains an intimidating figure.

“You get too many guys out there that are soft and don’t have the mentality,” Beckett said. “They just want to go out there and be all composed. One game I tried to do that and coach Humphreys came out there and told me not to be so passive.

“I build on my arrogance, and whenever I throw a fastball by them I might shake my head or something. That helps me.”

It also has opened him up to criticism from those who don’t like his Eckersley-like antics. Crowds cheered when he didn’t get a hit at the plate, and Round Rock fans even chanted “Beckett sucks” at their playoff game.

The taunting is tough for his father John, a mechanical engineer who could be spotted near the Spring dugout each game.

“I can’t tell you how hard that is for me to stand there and listen to people,” John said. “It really kind of disgusts me. You would think that people would be happy for someone being able to fulfill a dream.”

Inevitable Comparisons

Beckett, now 19, grew up idolizing fellow Houston area pitchers Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. But it’s Cubs righthander Kerry Wood to whom he’s most often compared.

“There’s a lot of similarities between the two,” said The Woodlands High coach Mike McGilvray, who coached Wood at Grand Prairie High and faced Beckett this year. “The thing that Kerry would do is just compete, and I see that in Josh. I see a guy that’s very similar to Kerry, and a lot of people are saying he’s a little bit better than Kerry at this point. That might be true.”

Beckett’s fastball was clocked as high as 99 mph last summer and 97 this season. He’s also got a great curve. He remains down to earth and says he doesn’t particularly care which team drafts him.

“I’m not really banking on any team,” he said. “There’s a lot of good stuff happening. But I think I can work up as fast as Kerry Wood.”

Beckett says he’s just ready to get started, to try to make sure his name is mentioned with Ryan, Clemens and Wood.

“They’re the men. They stood above the rest,” Beckett said. “Any strikeout record worth having is in a Texas pitcher’s pocket. I might come join them one day.”