Tim Beckham was, back in 2008, the first pick overall in the amateur draft for the Tampa Bay Rays. He was considered a safe pick, a classic ‘tools’ player who had been the 2007 Baseball America Youth Player of the Year. Making his debut at the age of 18, he played for both the Appalachian League Princeton Rays and the New York/Penn League Hudson Valley Renegades. In the two stops, he had a combined slash line of .246/.309/.350, with two home runs and 6 stolen bases.
This was enough for Beckham to be rated as the 28th best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season. That year, at age 19, he played the entire year for the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the South Atlantic League. At Bowling Green, he produced a slash line of .275/.328/.389, hitting 5 home runs and stealing 13 bases. While a solid year for a 19 year old kid, this was considered to be a bit of a disappointment. Prior to the 2010 season, BA listed him as the 67th best prospect in baseball. That season saw him playing for the Charlotte Stone Crabs for the Florida State League. There, he produced a slash line of .256/.346/.359, hitting another 5 home runs and stealing 22 bases.
The 2010 season was considered enough of a disappointment where Beckham was no longer considered a top 100 prospect, yet there were signs of improvement. His strikeout to walk ratio declined from 3.41 in 2009 to 1.91 in 2010. He almost doubled his walks, going from 34 to 62. This fueled an 18 point increase in his OBP, despite the decrease in batting average. However, his power numbers also declined, leading him to lose more of his prospect luster.
Last season Beckham split time between the Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League and the Durham Bulls of the International League. Overall, he had a solid year, hitting at a .271/.328/.408 clip. His power improved, as he hit 12 home runs and 28 doubles to go along with 17 stolen bases. He made solid contact when he got the bat on the ball, with a line drive rate of 17.7% in Montgomery and 20.5% in Durham (according to Minor League Central). Despite this, and with the breakout season of Hak-Ju Lee, there was talk of Beckham being moved to another position. There were even a few questions of whether or not he could still be considered a future starter, or just a utility player.
One of the biggest knocks on Beckham is his contact rate. Last year, his contact rates of 77.4% in Montgomery and 74.1% in Durham were both below league average. While his strikeout do remain a slight issue, he is only 22 years old. His plate discipline has gotten better with each stop in the minors as he matures into a more polished player. If he is able to cut down on the strikeouts, Beckham has the potential to blossom into a legitimate offensive threat in the majors. He has also improved his baserunning, and his quick wrists and swing could lead to more power as he gains some muscle.
So, what type of player could he become? The best case scenario would be for Beckham to turn into a player similar to Brandon Phillips or Alexei Ramirez, a threat to hit 15 to 20 home runs while stealing 15 to 20 bases each season with a batting average around .270-.280. While he probably won’t have a batting average that high, he could turn into a player that hits around 15 home runs, steals around 20 to 25 bases, and hits around .260. As such, his future appears to be similar to a player like Al Martin, an 11-year MLB veteran who happened to finish off his MLB career with the Devil Rays in 2003. Beckham may not have the prospect luster he once had, but if he can become that Al Martin-type player as a big league middle infielder, he will be a impact major league player who will be a valuable piece of the Rays’ roster.