Rays Tim Beckham Remains Unfinished Product

No. 1 pick in 2008 lost key time to drug suspension

Follow me on Twitter

In 2011, Tim Beckham had his best season as a professional. The No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft hit 12 homers—as many as he'd hit his first three seasons combined—and finished the year slugging .462 in a 24-game stint with Triple-A Durham.

The Rays have sent plenty of highly-regarded, expensive prospects to their Bulls affiliate, from Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli through B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Evan Longoria, David Price and Matt Moore. They clearly hope Beckham—signed for a franchise-record $6.15 million bonus in '08—will follow in those successful footsteps.

The 2012 season hasn't helped anyone figure out if Beckham can become a big league regular, though. One of the youngest players in the International League—just four players younger than the 22-year-old Beckham have as many as 100 plate appearances—he's played young in 2012. He hit just .204/.290/.278 in April, then earned a 50-game suspension for a second violation of baseball's drug of abuse policy.

Since returning to the field in June, Beckham has tacked close to his career numbers. He finished the year batting .255/.324/.360 for the season and .264/.330/.379 for his career. Decent numbers, acceptable production for a minor league middle infielder—but not what the Rays paid $6.15 million for.

"If you look at him like a 22-year-old in Triple-A, you say, 'Hey, he's going pretty good,'" Durham hitting coach Dave Myers said on a team radio show. "If you look at him as a No. 1 overall draft pick, you say, 'He's got some work to do.'"

Not Here To Talk About The Past

Beckham started our pregame interview by stating he wasn't going to talk about his "situation that happened," as he termed his suspension, and the 2008 draft that has come to define him also proved to be off-limits.

In our 2008 Draft Preview, BA ranked Pedro Alvarez and Brian Matusz just ahead of Beckham, No. 3 on our Top 200, with Florida State catcher Buster Posey fourth. Posey has been by far the best of the quartet, while Beckham faced Matusz in an Aug. 22 game in Durham, striking out swinging against the Orioles lefthander who got called back to the majors the next day.

Beckham will be a major leaguer; he's a capable middle infielder defensively who has added second base to his resume this year after playing exclusively shortstop previously. You don't have to be a scout to notice his righthanded power, evident with his 11 home runs in 392 Triple-A at-bats the last two seasons. Beckham hit three homers during a late-August homestand, showing power to all fields thanks to above-average bat speed and improving strength.

Two scouts with National League organizations who saw him on that homestand disagreed over his ceiling, with one pegging him as a utility player and the other believing Beckham will be a regular. They find plenty of faults, most notably hard hands that make it unlikely Beckham will defend well enough to be an everyday shortstop, as well as pitch-recognition issues that detract from his power and help contribute to a modest 32-100 walk-strikeout ratio in his Triple-A time.

Pitch recognition improves with repetition, which Beckham missed thanks to his suspension. He also could have used the time at second base.

"It will take a while because of the angles, but he's got the arm to make second base a lot easier for him than shortstop," said Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo, a former middle infielder. "Moving to second is a lot easier than moving to shortstop. He should be fine; he's just got to go do it."

Beckham said he hoped to make up for missed time with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, which was made official after our interview. He also needs to get mechanical adjustments in his swing he's made this year to become more second nature.

Meyers and Montoyo, among others, have worked with Beckham to quiet some pre-swing movement (which scouts noted as a negative) as well as lowering his hands in his setup to help him turn on inside pitches with more authority. He cited veterans Jeff Salazar (since released) and Stephen Vogt as influences as well on his changed approach, which he began working on in June. Montoyo said Beckham has to be more consistent with his new setup to have consistent results.

"I like the feeling of what I'm doing right now. I made some adjustments," Beckham said. "I had my hands in a different position than where I have them now. I've been trying to perfect that. I've got them lower now; they were over my head before, and there was a lot of movement. I talked to some of the older guys on the team who just told me my hands are quick enough and I'm strong enough where I don't need all that movement. I feel like the more quiet you are (in the batter's box), the more consistent you are, and that's where I want to be."

Improved consistency should take Beckham to Tampa Bay, either for September or in 2013. The Rays have started eight different second basemen and four different shortstops in 2012; in other words, there is room for Beckham in Tampa.

It's up to him to earn his way there. Then we can all figure out just what the Rays got for their money back in 2008.