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Should the Tampa Bay Rays Give Tim Beckham a Chance?

By Robbie Knopf
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As the 2013 season drew to a close, Tampa Bay Rays fans wondered whether the following year would finally mark Tim Beckham‘s big chance. He had delivered a single in his first big league plate appearance and a sac fly to help the Rays win a critical game on September 23rd. He was never going to be that superstar the Rays had envisaged when they had selected him first overall, but could he be a contributor off the Rays’ bench?

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Instead, Beckham tore his ACL while working out in December of 2013 and was sidelined until the end of July of this year. 2014, ironically enough, will go down as his rookie season–but only because he spent most of it on the 60-day disabled list. Now, after a season that saw him make just 103 plate appearances and just 65 at Triple-A, Beckham’s place in the Rays’ future is in question. When the season begins, he will be a 25 year old with just 8 major league plate appearances under his belt.

Yet if the Rays don’t make any more major leagues signings before the start of spring training, Tim Beckham would have a strong case for the Rays’ roster. The Rays will have 13 spots available for position players, and glancing at what their roster looks like at the moment, it looks like they have one spot up for grabs.

Catchers (2): Rene Rivera, Bobby Wilson/Curt Casali

Infielders (6): Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, James Loney, Nick Franklin, Logan Forsythe

Outfielders (4): Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, David DeJesus, Brandon Guyer

Based on the six infielders versus four outfielders, we wouldn’t think that the Rays need another infielder, but it really doesn’t matter all that much because of the versatility of Zobrist and Franklin. The bottom line at this point is that the Rays need a right-handed bench bat.

Longoria, Escobar, Zobrist, and Jennings are all set to be everyday players, but DeJesus, Loney, Franklin, and Kiermaier could all use some against left-handed pitching. Not all of them will sit for every game, but the Rays could use at least one more right-handed backup to join Forsythe and Guyer, and Beckham looks like a solid candidate for that role.

Beckham has a .296/.369/.418 line in 432 plate appearances against lefties the last four years in the minor leagues. His performance against left-handers has not been consistent, but he still has the bat speed and overall approach to succeed against hem. He would also bring solid speed, enough for him to be a pinch-runner, and experience at shortstop and second base with other positions to come. Beckham has enough talent to be a fine utility infielder, and the Rays can keep hoping that he will break out.

The fact that the Rays may be running out of patience for Beckham to develop may also help him as he hopes to win a job. Steven Souza and Mikie Mahtook have a high probability of being better players than Beckham and would be better than him off the Rays’ bench. Nevertheless, the Rays would rather get them regular Triple-A at-bats and call them up when they prove themselves ready for starting roles. Beckham makes the most sense of any of them to play a backup role.

After a pair of middling seasons at Triple-A, Reid Brignac spent 2010 as a bench player for the Rays and showed enough to be the Rays’ starting shortstop to begin 2011. Then last season, Brandon Guyer began the year as an occasional starter against left-handed pitching before working himself into more time. Obviously Brignac never turned out as hoped and we don’t know how Guyer’s story will turn out, but the Rays to have a precedent for using former top prospects as reserves and Beckham seems like a good candidate to be next.

People were saying the same thing last year, but 2015 will be a make-or-break season for Tim Beckham. The stars have aligned for him to make the Rays’ roster, and if the Rays feel the need to sign a bench player and put him at Triple-A for yet another season, that will tell us everything we need to know about what the Rays think of him.

If the Rays still believe that Beckham can be a useful big league bench player and just maybe something more, they will give him every opportunity to make their roster out of spring training. If they do not, on the other hand, Beckham may still have a future in the big leagues, but his days in the Rays organization may be numbered.

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