Oct 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays infielder Tim Beckham (29) works out prior to game four of the American League divisional series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Can Tim Beckham Crack the Rays' 2015 Roster?

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Tim Beckham finally returned to Triple-A after a lengthy rehab assignment from right knee surgery, and the results were spectacular. The Tampa Bay Rays’ number one overall pick from 2008 went 4 for 6 with an RBI and 3 runs scored, showing off another glimmer of the potential that got him selected so highly. Last season, he did the same in the major leagues, drilling a single in his first major league at-bat and going 1 for 3 with a sac fly and run scored to help the Rays to a 5-4 win on September 23rd. At this point, however, Tim Beckham is 24 and has a grand total of 8 major league plate appearances on his belt. He is less a top prospect than a bench player who will be potentially big league ready when he is healthy. With that in mind, will next season finally be Beckham’s chance to show what he can do at the big league level?

There is certainly a degree of uncertainty as we think about next year for the Tampa Bay Rays, but we can be relatively certain about their infield. All four of their starters–Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, and James Loney–are all under contract, and only Zobrist is a possible trade candidate. Even for Zobrist, though, it seems likely that the Rays will keep him for his final season in a Rays uniform in 2015. Then, among the backups, the Rays will have Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe under team control, not to mention Cole Figueroa. Nick Franklin is another name to watch out for, although he will likely be a super-utility type receiving regular playing time assuming Zobrist remains with the team. Then, we have Beckham, who may have a lot of name recognition, but does not appear to stand out among the crowd. Given all of the other players, is there any chance that he could crack the Rays’ opening day roster? To lay out further how uphill a battle he will face, let’s add in the catchers and outfielders and take a look at the players competing for the Rays’ 13 position-player spots on their 2015 Opening Day roster.

Catchers (3): Ryan Hanigan, Jose Molina (trade candidate), Curt Casali

Infielders (9): Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist (trade candidate), James Loney, Nick Franklin, Sean Rodriguez (trade candidate), Logan Forsythe, Cole Figueroa, Tim Beckham

Outfielders (6): Kevin Kiermaier, Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings (trade candidate), Matt Joyce (trade candidate), Brandon Guyer, David DeJesus

If Zobrist, Rodriguez, Joyce, and Jennings were all dealt, there would be eleven players for the eleven non-catcher position-player slots on the Rays’ roster, including Beckham. Of course, that is an exceedingly unlikely scenario. The only probable trade would be one involving either Joyce or Jennings, and that would do nothing to stop the Rays from putting Figueroa and Beckham back in Triple-A. Even if the Rays traded both Joyce and Jennings (which is a possibility, especially given that both Zobrist and Franklin can play the outfield as well), Figueroa and Beckham would still end up in Durham. And even if the Rays traded Rodriguez because he is entering his contract year, would the Rays really go with Beckham over Figueroa? For their ten assured spots, they would have five right-handed hitters, three lefty hitters, and two switch-hitters. Let’s take a look at how the defense could line up against righties and lefties in this case.

Vs. RHP: James Loney 1B, Ben Zobrist 2B, Yunel Escobar SS, Evan Longoria 3B, Nick Franklin LF, Kevin Kiermaier CF, Wil Myers RH, David DeJesus DH

Vs. LHP: James Loney 1B, Logan Forsythe 2B, Yunel Escobar SS, Evan Longoria 3B, Ben Zobrist LF, Kevin Kiermaier CF, Wil Myers RF, Brandon Guyer DH

Of those two lineups, the one versus lefties is clearly weaker, and the Rays could use players to spell both Loney and Kiermaier on at least an occasional basis. The good news for Tim Beckham is that if Sean Rodriguez and two outfielders were traded, it would still make sense for them to have two righty bench bats, so he would be the choice over Cole Figueroa. But the chances of things playing out in this way are quite small, and there are very few offseason outcomes that will result with him making the Rays’ Opening Day roster.

Tim Beckham is likely to see time in the big leagues next season, but as a player who is most likely a platoon bat against left-handed pitching, the Rays will not bend over backwards to make room for him. The likelihood is that Beckham will be back at Triple-A Durham to begin 2015, and despite his billing as a former number one overall pick, he has plenty of work to do to find his way onto the Rays’ roster for an extended period of time.

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