Minor League Review: More Questions Than Answers for Tim Beckham

By Robbie Knopf

Tim Beckham has been reinstated following his 50-game suspension- at least that’s for certain. Beckham, listed at 6’0″, 190, was suspended for a drug of abuse, not a performance-enhancing drug. OK, Tim Beckham isn’t a cheater. But you can add it to the list of concerns for Beckham.

At the time of the 2008 MLB Draft, the Rays were just half a game out of first in the AL East in what would prove to be a magical season culminating in a trip to the World Series. They decided that rather than selecting college players in the first round like they had the previous four years, that they could select and develop a high school player who could make an impact a few years down the line. They decided on Griffin High School shortstop Tim Beckham, and liked him enough that they also drafted his older brother Jeremy Beckham out of Georgia Southern University in the 17th round. Beckham was a five-tool talent who could do it all. The Rays have never seen all five tools working at the same tiem.

Beckham turned 22 in January, so he’s still young. The Rays are still waiting for his tools to come out. Beckham experienced a breakout of sorts in 2011 between Double-A and Triple-A, posting a .271/.328/.408 line with 28 doubles, 4 triples, 12 homers, 70 RBI, and 17 out of 22 steals. He still was not that impressive. Beckham’s arm strength isn’t questioned. But his pure hitting ability has never been great as he shows nice bat speed but strikes out too much and doesn’t draw enough walks as his pitch recognition has never come around. His power comes and goes- he’ll have power surges but then won’t hit a homer for another month. His speed, both on the basepaths and in the field, has been criticized because of Beckham’s stocky build that makes him look more like a pitcher. Beckham dropped 15 pounds before spring training of 2012, and you have to hope that he hasn’t added that weight back on because the leaner frame made him more athletic. Beckham runs well but really started reading pitchers well for the first time in 2011 and his actions at short remain a work in progress.

In spring training of 2012, Beckham went just 1 for 24. He was clearly not ready for the big leagues. But the Rays did start exploring his versatility. With top shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee manning his customary position, Beckham moved to second base and showed smoother actions and his great arm strength really shined there as he made some nice plays. The Rays understand that Beckham isn’t ready offensively for the major leagues. But they were open to playing him at multiple positions and getting him to the big leagues in a utility role, hoping his bat would come along the way. Beckham could have filled that role with the Rays in 2012. Everyone was getting hurt and the Rays needed big league depth. Beckham could have been at least a temporary option, and if he started hitting, who knows? It’s not like the Rays have nailed down the shortstop position right now with Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez. But instead, Beckham was suspended. How long will it be until he gets another chance?