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Clarifying Tim Beckham’s Place With the Rays Entering 2015

By Robbie Knopf
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Tim Beckham has been one of the most discussed names here at Rays Colored Glasses this offseason. Beckham, the former number one overall pick who turned 25 years old in January, enters 2015 with an opportunity to make the Tampa Bay Rays’ Opening Day roster for the first time. What is the probability that he actually makes the team? We can’t know for certain, but with increasingly more information trickling in, we have a much better idea than we did a few months ago.

We learned recently from Marc Topkin that Beckham is almost entirely healthy after missing nearly all of 2014 following knee surgery. Since the beginning of September, he has been conducting his offseason routine at Tropicana Field with Tom Foley, working on both his hitting and fielding. He still wears a knee brace, but that hasn’t impeded his movements or his ability to get leverage in his swing,

Beckham made just 105 plate appearances at Triple-A in 2014 (including postseason) plus 38 more in rehab games, but he is now injury-free and the workouts have rid him of most of his rust. The fact that Beckham isn’t coming off a full season in the minors is working against him, but not any more than his middling numbers there in 2012 and 2013.

Since Tim Beckham is now healthy, if the Rays look at him and see a capable defender at second base and shortstop who can hit left-handed pitching in the major leagues, then he will be a legitimate candidate for their roster. Of course, that brings us to something else that Topkin brought up.

"Though he moved fine and played well into the playoffs, Beckham got passed over in September for a callup as the Rays instead took a look at Franklin."

If the Rays considered Beckham to be a legitimate candidate for their roster in 2015, why didn’t they promote him for even a single September game? We can say with certainty that the Rays regard Nick Franklin higher than him–unlike Franklin, Beckham isn’t a real candidate to be a starting middle infielder for the Rays–and the team’s decision also appears to reflect badly on Beckham in isolation.

Before we discount Tim Beckham’s chances of making the Rays’ roster too much, though, there are certainly other reasons why he wasn’t called up. The at-bats he received in the Durham Bulls’ playoff run were quite valuable given how few he received all season. Even once the Bulls were eliminated, Beckham had a lot of work still to do and the Rays may have decided that being with the team would distract him more than it would help him.

Finally, by not calling Beckham up, the Rays made him motivated as the offseason began. They reminded him that while his knee surgery wasn’t his fault, it is on his shoulders to get healthy and make up for his lost time. They also showed him that he is no longer one of their priorities and that if he wants a big league chance, he has to earn it.

Tim Beckham has much to prove this coming spring training. He will be in competition for the Rays’ 25th man role with Juan Francisco, Jake Elmore, and Alexi Casilla, and he could have more to lose than simply returning to Triple-A. Francisco, Elmore, and Casilla are all non-roster invitees, and with other such players like Ronald Belisario and Bobby Wilson also candidates to make the team, Beckham could be designated for assignment if he doesn’t crack the roster.

Luckily for Beckham, the fact that his roster spot is in jeopardy may also help him. Though he has one more option year remaining, the Rays may view him as though he is out of options and do whatever they can to keep him. Though there is no guarantee that he can hit major league pitching, he is talented enough to deserve a chance, especially when we compare him to Elmore and Casilla.

Francisco is another story. Can Beckham really compare to a player that hit 16 home runs in the major leagues last season? The good news from Beckham’s perspective is that we’re making an apples-to-oranges comparison–they will earn spots on the team in different scenarios. Beckham is the Rays’ guy if they need a right-hitting backup, but if they trade David DeJesus, that would likely be enough to get Francisco a chance.

At this point, most of the uncertainty surrounding Tim Beckham’s place with the Rays for 2015 is entirely out of his control. To make the team, he needs to hope that the Rays will keep DeJesus and start Steven Souza in the minor leagues. On the other hand, if the Rays do trade DeJesus, Beckham may only remain on the 40-man roster if Wilson or Belisario fails to make the team or if the Rays deal a surplus starter like Enny Romero or an extra reliever like Kirby Yates.

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Based on the available information, I would say that Beckham’s chances of making the Rays’ 25-man roster are 35% and his probability of remaining on their 40-man is 80%. The Rays know from how Robinson Chirinos and Stephen Vogt have turned out since leaving Tampa Bay that designating a talented player for assignment can be a move that they could regret significantly. However, that isn’t enough for Beckham’s quest to make the Rays’ Opening Day roster to be anything less than an uphill battle.

What we can say with confidence is that it took a lot of hard work from Beckham and the Rays’ trades of both Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar for Beckham to have any sort of chance to be on the team’s roster at the outset of the season. Beckham found the perfect combination of being lucky and good this offseason, and we will have to see if he can maintain that once spring training begins.

Next: Jake Elmore's Versatility Will Stand Out for Rays

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