Tim Beckham has made it. Five years and three months ago, we imagined him arriving like a Wil Myers or a David Price, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind from his very first game that he would be a superstar. Instead, Beckham has arrived two or three years late and the luster is gone. He was drafted with all five tools. He now has much less. He still stands out for his bat speed and arm strength, but his power has never surfaced and his poor hands and actions at shortstop forced him off the position before Hak-Ju Lee‘s injury brought him back there as a necessity. Beckham was that can’t-miss prospect, but now questions have enveloped every facet of his game and we can’t be sure whether we’re seeing the start of a great career or the beginning of further disappointment. And unless Beckham starts fulfilling all the promise we thought he had, it will be impossible not to consider his career a disappointment. His destiny is as the player who was for some bizarre reason selected number one overall instead of Buster Posey, Eric Hosmer, or Pedro Alvarez. For right, though, let’s not worry about what Tim Beckham’s legacy will be ten or twelve years down the line. Let’s worry about who Tim Beckham is right now, a 23 year old middle infielder with a chance to contribute for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tim Beckham has been through a lot. From skills that haven’t lived up to the hype to multiple suspension for drug abuse, we have watched season after season end in failure. Whenever it looked like Beckham had found himself, he’d start slumping or get suspended again. But 2013 had a different feel. We saw Beckham taking nothing for granted and finally making use of the abilities he had. Beckham’s pitch recognition finally took a step forward and his contact got harder and harder. After managing striking out three times for every walk the first three months of the season, Beckham improved to 39-21 from July 1st to the end of the season. His strikeout rate dropped precipitately from 23.6% from April to June all the way down to 17.0% from July to the end of the season, a statistically significant difference (32 to 1 odds of occurring by chance alone). We’re still waiting for Beckham’s power, but the first step to him turning into a big league quality hitter was him solidifying his approach at the plate, and he finally has gone just that. Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo remarked that “the ball sounded different off his bat” following the All-Star break, and it’s hard to deny that after Beckham finished the season with a .291/.371/.411 line and a 29-18 strikeout to walk ratio in his 173 plate appearances following the break. Montoyo was just as impressed with Beckham’s defense, saying that “He could go to the big leagues tomorrow and play short.” Beckham is no future superstar anymore. However, he has finally made the adjustments necessary to make sure his future at least has a chance.
Tim Beckham has earned his opportunity to reach the major leagues. He has worked hard at the plate and in the field to turn his raw talent into the type of consistent results we had never seen from him before, and now he will hope to continue improving at the big league level. There’s nothing flashy about this new Beckham, and the Rays’ reaction to him finally cracking their roster is more a gasp of relief than a unceasing smile. But nevertheless, there’s a satisfying feeling that comes with Beckham making the major leagues. For a while, it looked like Beckham would become a bust. Instead, he perservered to make it onto the Rays’ roster, and we’ll see what happens from here.