What went through the mind of Tim Beckham as he released the flip towards Hak-Ju Lee at second base as Travis Ishikawa rapidly approached the bag looking to break up the double play? Did he realize immediately that he had put his double play partner in serious danger? Did he think that thanks to Lee’s incredible defensive talent, somehow it would all work out? Whatever Beckham was thinking at the time of the play, as Lee was on the ground writhing in pain, Beckham ran to stand next to him but then took a long, contemplative look towards left-center field before looking at Lee and grasping the severity of what had transpired. Did he blame himself for what had happened? It certainly wasn’t intentional and was a mistake any second baseman could have made, but it was a clear instance where Beckham’s failure to meet the learning curve had directly cost not him, but another player.
Tim Beckham is far from the player he used to be. Keith Law of ESPN remarked last week “Tim Beckham … I remember when he had bat speed.” A former number one overall pick who was supposed to have all five tools that you look for in a prospect, evaluators are only sold that Beckham has one at this point: his arm strength. His bat speed isn’t as explosive as it used to be and his patience has never been that great. His power has surfaced in transient glimpses but never anything more. His speed has continued to decrease as he has filled out and he’s about an average runner. And defensively, he moves just decently without good enough hands to play shortstop on a regular basis in the major leagues. Whenever Beckham looks like he’s about to break through, somehow he falls apart again. After managing a solid .271/.328/.408 line with 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, Beckham was suspended for maurijuana in 2012, receiving a 50-game suspension. Beckham is still young, turning 23 in January, but his upside has gone from that of a superstar to more of a super-utility player. Realistically, if Tim Beckham became a Sean Rodriguez-type of player who could hit left-handed pitching while playing a variety of positions, they would probably be thrilled. But after Beckham has managed just a .257/.326/.361 at Triple-A since the start of the 2012 season, even that is in serious question.
If he carves out a career up to his current capabilities, Beckham will be far from the worst number one overall pick in the history of baseball. At this point, though, the fact that he was a first overall is basically irrelevant. Now he’s just another player at Triple-A fighting for the chance at a big league job. All of leeway the Rays gave Beckham before where he was drafted is gone and the only things left are his performance on his field and his need to stay out of trouble off of it. Beckham has to be one of 25 on a major league roster and he has to do everything in his power to warrant that spot. No more “get him to the big leagues and we’ll deal with him there.” From the fundamentals of the game to subtleties, Beckham has to squeeze every once of talent left in him out when he takes the field. Why did Hak-Ju Lee get hurt? Because Tim Beckham wasn’t comfortable with two intricacies of the second base position: deciding when to be aggressive and go for the force and second base and when to settle for the out at first, and when to flip the ball and when to throw it. Beckham is a new second baseman so it’s not his fault that he made the wrong decision, and he’s certainly not to blame for Lee’s injury. Nevertheless, no one is making excuses for Beckham anymore. He blew it. Lee’s injury illustrates exactly why Beckham needs to put all the effort in to be the best he can in every facet of the game, and it’s clear that he has a long way to go.
Beckham is just another member of the the Durham Bulls now and he can be one of two things: an anchor bringing his team down or cautionary tale keeping everyone on their toes. Beckham can keep sulking about the talent he has lost or he can acknowledge that he’s not the player he used to be and find a way to move on with his career. Tim Beckham can still be a productive major leaguer with the ability he has left. For that to happen, however, Beckham has to stop worrying about the talent he used to have and figure out how to become the best player he can be within what he is now. Exactly like on the ill-fated throw he made to Lee, Beckham’s margin for error is gone. And if Beckham doesn’t start making the necessary improvements, he won’t be the only one going down.