Time is running out for Tim Beckham

Everything is slowly but surely slipping away for Tim Beckham. Beckham has realized that he’s not the golden boy anymore. He’s not the Rays’ shortstop of the future- that distinction belongs to Hak-Ju Lee. He’s not the shortstop of the present- Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, and Elliot Johnson are all ahead of him in that regard. So what is Tim Beckham? Well currently he’s a Triple-A shortstop fighting for big league consideration. And he’s not that prospect that the Rays are delaying to call up in order to slow his arbitration clock. Beckham’s future is hanging in the balance right now.

Tim Beckham showed flashes in 2011. But flashes aren’t enough. Beckham will be 22 in January, so while he’s still young, the Rays had longed for so much more out of him by now. The Rays signed him for 6.15 million dollars as the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, and the expectations have always been high. Beckham has never lived up to them. The Rays brass dreamed- heck, all Rays fans dreamed- back in 2008 that by this point in time Beckham would be coming off an outstanding rookie season that earned him the AL Rookie of the Year Award as he hit for average and power while swiping bases and playing Gold Glove-worthy defense. Beckham would be getting ready for an even better sophomore season as he hoped to continue developing as a major league player. But no semblance of that has happened. Since skipping from Advanced Rookie Ball to Low-A in 2009, Beckham has handled one level per season. (Although he played 24 games at Durham in 2011, he’ll certainly head back there in 2012.) Deserving number one overall picks are supposed to speed through the minors. Beckham hasn’t done that at all, and it’s not because the Rays are taking it slow with him- he hasn’t played well enough for him to warrant skipping another level. Beckham’s OPS’s of .659, .717, and .705 in his first three minor league seasons were nothing for him to be proud of. And he posted those OPS’s while hitting for just decent averages, little power, and stealing few bases and playing just passable defense. I asked this past March “Is Tim Beckham a bust?“, and it was a perfectly justifiable question. In 2011, Beckham made progress. But he needs to do a whole lot more to get back in the middle of the Rays plans.

Even after some improvement in 2011, Tim Beckham's future is shrouded with uncertainty. (al.com)

In 2011, Beckham had easily his best season in the minors. Between 107 games at Double-A Montgomery and 24 games at Triple-A Durham, Beckham posted a .271/.328/.408 line with 28 doubles, 4 triples, 12 homers, 70 RBI, 94 runs, and 17 stolen bases while being caught just 5 times in 131 games. He grounded into just 7 double plays after grounding into 14 in fewer games in 2010. He was hustling. And he was hustling because he had to- he couldn’t just depend on his tools anymore. He had to give 110% effort because the Rays had ceased to unwaveringly trust in him. Good for him. But look at those numbers- are they anything special? No. Neither his batting average, OBP, nor his slugging percentage were anything special in anybody’s eyes. He hit for some decent power, nothing more. He stole some bases at a good percentage, but players were Beckham’s speed are supposed to steal many more. Defensively, Beckham has always had the range and the arm, but he hasn’t been able to consistently make plays, posting just a .960 Fld% (fielding percentage) at shortstop in 2011 (for what it’s worth), and his 22 errors would have been tied for the 4th-most in baseball this season despite the fact that Beckham played in just 131 games this season. Beckham still has a lot more work to do.

Hak-Ju Lee has undeniably caught up to Beckham. Lee is a true 4-tool player, possessing very good pure hitting ability, elite speed, incredibly range defensively and a nice arm. In 2011, Lee had an outstanding season, hitting .292 between 97 games at High-A Charlotte and 24 games at Double-A Montgomery with 17 doubles, 15 triples, 5 homers, 30 RBI, 98 runs, 33 stolen bases, a .365 OBP, and a .416 SLG. Note that even though power is Lee’s worst tool, he still posted a higher slugging percentage than Beckham. How will Beckham respond?

Beckham was drafted as a 5-tool player, and those tools haven’t disappeared into thin air. All Beckham has to do is execute. His back against the wall now and it’s do or die now for Beckham. Beckham’s future with the Rays is on the line. Is Beckham just going to sit there and watch as Lee passes him? Or will he step up and bring his level of play up a notch, and show the Rays that he’s still the player that deserved the number one overall pick back in 2008?

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