Q&A: Princeton Manager Joe Szekely

The Rays spent the first overall pick in the 2008 draft on Tim Beckham, an 18-year-old high school shortstop from Griffin, Ga. But while Beckham is blessed with premium talent and athleticism, he is still far from a big leaguer, although his tremendous ceiling is what excites so many scouts. Beckham is beginning his career in the Rookie-level Appalachian League with Princeton, where he has hit .238/.299/.323 in 130 at-bats, including a 2-for-4 night yesterday when he hit his first professional home run. Joe Szekely, Beckham's manager at Princeton, has already seen the quick improvements that Beckham has made since signing, improvements that have Beckham only scratching the surface of is sizeable potential. Szekely spoke before Tuesday's game about what he has seen thus far from Beckham.

Baseball America: Since we're talking about a No. 1 overall pick in the draft, what is it that makes Tim Beckham so special?

Joe Szekely: First of all, he has all the tools: he can run, he's got a good arm, he's got good hands, he can hit, he can hit for power. He possesses all the tools that you need and then he's got that desire, that want-to. He's coachable, and that's the biggest thing—he wants to learn. He asks questions all the time; he's constantly wanting to get better and get better now. He wants to get everything now, and he realizes after he's been here a while how much he's learned in the short time he's been here and how much more he needs to learn. It's good because he didn't come in here thinking that he had all the answers. He came in knowing that he had to learn and get better and iron things out, and he's doing a great job. He's made tremendous strides from the first day we saw him to now.

BA: You talked about Tim making strides and being coachable, which is something we heard about him as an amateur player as well. What are some of the ways that he has evolved since signing?

JS: Well, I think No. 1, defensively he's much more under control—he's much smoother. He's allowing himself to make the plays that he was capable of making, but just because of his mechanics and things like that made it tough for him. He's got tremendous athleticism and now that he's cleaned up a lot of stuff—his glove presentation, from his exchange, putting his arm slot in a more consistent arm slot, a shorter arm slot, has helped him evolve. If we had video on him—well, we do—but I mean if you and I right now had a video of the first time we hit him groundballs to now, you would see an extremely different player.

BA: At the plate, what does Tim do well when things are going well for him?

JS: You know, right now he's still finding himself. We have a policy where, for a certain amount of time, we don't really say a whole lot to him because we want him to go out and play and show us what got you drafted. We're just now starting to talk to him about some little things, but we're not going to make any kind of mechanical adjustments. That'll be something that'll happen during instructional league when we have time in a non-championship season time to do that, to make some adjustments. I think the biggest thing for him is—and he'll tell you this as well—that he has never faced pitching quite like this. He may have faced one or two guys that had good arms, but day in, day out, he's facing that same guy every single night. I think that's the one thing that he's having to adjust to, is the fact that the pitching is as good as he's seen—every single night.

BA: What is the biggest difference in the pitchers he's seeing now vs. when he was in high school? Harder fastballs, better breaking stuff and changeups?

JS: I think the combination of everything. I think the combination of playing and traveling every day. I think the caliber of ballplayers he sees, the speed of the game, the speed of the runners, all this has overnight gotten a lot faster, and he's certainly capable of playing at this level, it's just that he has not, ever. So it's going to take some adjustments to be able to start doing all these things at game speed, and that's what he's picked up so fast defensively, and he's starting to do this offensively. He's starting to put together better at-bats and more consistent approaches each and every plate appearances.

BA: You talked a little bit about his approach there at the end. How would you describe the way Tim approaches each at-bat?

JS: He's a very aggressive hitter and he's a strong guy, and he's trying to drive balls—he's looking for balls to drive. Sometimes you see an 0-0 breaking ball, or 0-0 changeup or a 1-0 changeup or a 2-1 changeup or sometimes a 2-1 slider. I'm sure he's never see that as well as fastballs ranging from the low- to mid-90s every single night. So there's a lot of adjustments and a lot of things that he's going through that he's having to make adjustments on, and it's a work in progress. But he's certainly picking these things up and understanding that he's got a ways to go.

BA: What is Tim like as a player to manage and in terms of the way he interacts with his teammates?

JS: He's great with everybody. He's always coming to the ballpark with a smile on his face, he's always ready to work, he's a very polite kid and he's been brought up the right way. And when his brother Jeremy (a 17th-round pick promoted to short-season Hudson Valley in late July) was here, both those kids, you could tell they were close, not only as brothers but as friends. Both of them were well-raised. And it just goes to show in the way he handles things. He's very driven, don't get me wrong. In batting practice if you throw a couple balls on the inner half and it gets in on him a little bit, he's going to take that as a personal challenge and turn those balls around. He's got that competitiveness, he's got that drive, he's got that want-to and that work ethic. You match that up with his tools and you can see why he'd be the No. 1 player taken in the country.