Beckham Backer

Maddon praises No. 1 pick's ability

Port Charlotte, Fla.—Rays manager Joe Maddon had to laugh. Nothing against the experts at Baseball America or anywhere else, but he felt the idea of downgrading shortstop Tim Beckham's prospects for success—from 28th to 67th on this year's top 100 list—just wasn't right.

"That makes me laugh," Maddon said. "It's amusing."

Beckham, 20, didn't have that bad of a first full pro season, hitting .275/.328/.389 with five homers, 63 RBIs and 116 strikeouts at low Class A Bowling Green. And he reported early to major league camp this spring in noticeably better shape, making such a favorable impression that Maddon went up to him during the second full-squad workout just to tell him how much better he looked than a year ago.

"This kid, he's very interesting, he's very fun to be around," Maddon said. "I think he loves being here already. I truly believe this guy is going to be very good at some point. The way he goes about his business and the way he listens, he's going to come on pretty quickly."

Maddon also reminded that Beckham—who was in high school less than two years ago and was the top pick of the 2008 draft—is the equivalent of a college sophomore.

"Here's a high school kid that's out there playing on an everyday basis for the first time at a position he still really needs some work on; offensively he'd been playing high school baseball against no velocity with an aluminum bat," Maddon said. "You look at the body, you look at the way it moves, you look at the athleticism. And just know the kid—talk to him before you want to evaluate where you think this is going to go. I put a lot of credence (in) when I have a conversation and when you talk to Beck, you know this kid, he's got it together pretty good. He's definitely motivated in the right direction, he's going to put in the work that it takes."

Cool Rays

• Righthander Joaquin Benoit, who missed all of 2009 recovering from shoulder surgery, signed a minor league deal and joined the Rays.

• Lefthander Jason Cromer joined the squad in big league camp. He and outfielder Carl Crawford are the only players from the pre-2000 drafts still active in the organization. Cromer went 11-6, 2.99 in two stops in 2009