In 2008, the Rays selected high school shortstop Tim Beckham as the number one overall draft pick, giving him a $6.15 million signing bonus. Beckham had been credited as a potential five-tool player with the ability to provide power and speed while sticking at shortstop. That never materialized, but Beckham has made steady progress and delivered a strong season in his second go-around at Triple-A Durham .Beckham hit to a .276/.342/.387 line for the Bulls, delivering 25 doubles, 7 triples and 4 homers and stealing 17 bases as well in 122 games. After playing shortstop most of his minor league career, Beckham began 2013 as the Bulls primary second baseman. However, Beckham was forced to move back over to short after a season ending knee injury to Hak-Ju Lee and played decently at th3 position. After completing his sixth minor league season in 2013, Beckham stands on the cusp of the big leagues but has yet to crack Rays’ roster. Where does Beckham fit into the Rays’ futures plans?
Beckham’s underwhelming minor league stats have made it look more and more like he will never become an everyday shortstop in the MLB as was once expected. However, Beckham could still provide the Rays value as a utility player. Beckham could potentially serve as a replacement to Kelly Johnson, who is a free agent after the season. While Johnson has a better bat than Beckham, Beckham’s plus arm, solid hands, and good range give him a defensive advantage over Johnson. While Johnson cannot play shortstop, Beckham can play serviceably at the position. If the Rays taught Beckham the ability to play non-middle infield positions, he would make a solid replacement for Johnson, pairing his strong defense with a decent bat.
Beckham could also serve as a future replacement for current utility man Sean Rodriguez. As a big leaguer, Rodriguez’s career .228/.308/.356 line is a very unimpressive one. If Beckham is able to refine his approach a bit, his great bat speed would give him the ability to provide value as a utility man with some power potential, something that Rodriguez has lacked as a big leaguer. As a 23 year old, Beckham is five years younger than Rodriguez, and would provide more potential than Rodriguez does. For the budget minded Rays, Beckham would also come cheaper at close to the league minimum price, while Rodriguez will see a raise on his $1 million salary as a second time arbitration eligible player.
Getting the call to the big leagues as a part time utility player could be the reality check that Beckham needs, inspiring him to work harder to reach his potential. The Rays will likely fill a utility role with Rodriguez or go outside the organization to find a similar player in order to keep depth intact. Beckham will almost surely start the season back at Triple-A. But he will be one of the first options in case of injury, and he will likely get his first significant MLB chance in 2014. Beckham will likely never fulfill the potential that he had when drafted number one overall in 2008. However, if he can continue getting his act together, he has the ability to make an impact for the Rays in the near future.