The Tampa Bay Rays have been waiting for years for a top overall draft pick to produce, and that may finally be happening.
The Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant in 2008, reaching the World Series for the only time in their history.
The excitement of that 2008 Fall Classic came just one year after the Rays had finished with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball.
As a result of that poor 2007 finish, Tampa Bay held the rights to the top overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft in June of 2008. With that selection, the Rays chose shortstop Tim Beckham out of Griffin High School in Georgia.
Also selected in that first round was first baseman Eric Hosmer at third overall by the Kansas City Royals. The San Francisco Giants chose catcher Buster Posey with the fifth overall pick.
It was a third consecutive year in which the Rays were selecting within the top three overall picks of the draft. The previous year, the club chose pitcher David Price with the top overall pick. In 2006, the Rays took third baseman Evan Longoria at third overall.
“It was an active debate, but I think at the end of the day when push came to shove and we were racing time, I think it was pretty clear to everybody that Beckham was the guy at the top of our board. We feel like he’s got an advanced approach to the game, a genuine enthusiasm for what he does, and we feel like he’s got a great chance to be an impact player in the major leagues.”
Friedman and the Rays could not have gotten the pick more wrong.
Price and Longoria would quickly rise to become key cogs for a Rays team that finally became a consistent contender. Beckham would take much longer to develop. Meanwhile, Posey was becoming a superstar.
PERSONAL AND INJURY TROUBLES IN MINORS
In the 2009 season, Beckham would hit .275, drive in 63 runs and steal 13 bases at Low-A Bowling Green. The following year with High-A Charlotte, he hit just .256 but stole 22 bags.
In 2011, Beckham split the year between the AA and AAA levels. He posted professional career highs with a dozen homers, 44 extra-base hits, 70 RBI and 94 runs scored. Beckham was just 21 years old at that point, and all signs were continuing to point up.
However, trouble would surface in the 2012 season. In May of that year, Beckham tested positive for the second time for a “drug of abuse,” and was suspended for 50 games.
Back at AAA in the 2013 season, Beckham hit .276 with a .342 on-base percentage. He appeared to possibly be back on track, and even got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues during late September.
It seemed as if the former top overall pick was finally on the cusp of a regular role with the Rays. But then, more disaster struck. This time it was in the form of a torn ACL while working out in preparation for the 2014 season. He was quoted at the time for MLB.com by Bill Chastain:
“Just training; it was supposed to be my day off. While doing a drill at the end of the workout, my tennis shoe hit the ground and I tried to cross over into a sprint. I was sprinting out of the drill and when my foot hit the ground, my foot slipped and my knee gave.”
Beckham would subsequently miss most of that 2014 season. He would receive just 95 at-bats across three levels of the minor leagues that year.
MORE DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS IN THE BIGS
In coming out for the 2015 campaign, the shortstop was simply looking to re-establish himself and show that he was healthy. After hitting .294 over his first 51 at-bats, Beckham was back in the bigs.
In Miami on April 11, 2015, Beckham cranked his first big league home run. The blast off Marlins lefty reliever Mike Dunn helped the Rays to a 2-0 victory. It would prove to be an outlier, not the sign of a long-awaited breakout.
Over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Beckham failed to establish himself as a regular in the Rays lineup. In fact, he was demoted at the start of September of last season due to a series of base-running gaffes and a perceived lack of hustle.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
All of Beckham’s struggles have been exacerbated by thoughts of what might have been for Tampa Bay. What might have happened had they only chosen Posey on that June day back in 2008?
The catcher would go on to become one of the great team leaders in the game, and one of its best players as well. Posey was the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year. He was the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player.
Posey has captured three Silver Slugger Awards, a Gold Glove and has been a four-time NL All-Star. Oh yes, and he helped lead the Giants to three World Series championships.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF NEW OPPORTUNITY
But perhaps now in 2017, something is finally clicking for Beckham. He was provided with an opportunity to play regularly thanks to starting shortstop Matt Duffy‘s slow recovery from offseason heel surgery. Beckham has thus far been making the most of that chance.
Through five weeks of the 2017 season, Beckham is hitting for a .275/.306/.520 slash line. He has driven six homers and has 11 extra-base hits over 109 plate appearances in his first 28 games.
His production is part of the reason that the Rays are off to a surprising start in the standings. The club was at the .500 mark prior to a Friday night loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Beck’s having a good time out there. He’s obviously gotten some consistency. He’s got into that everyday routine, that everyday role. You know, he probably hasn’t had too many of those opportunities up here at the big-league level, and he’s making the most of it right now. He’s helping us win games, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
Talent has never been the question with Beckham. His problems have more to do with discipline, personal responsibility and injuries. Still early in his prime at just age 27, if he can continue to produce, it could make for an interesting and exciting season for both Beckham and the Rays. Finally.