While doing research on Tim Beckham, I noticed an interesting and telling statistic from the position players selected in the first round of the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Six position players out of the 19 selected have not been called up by their respective big league club yet. Five of those six players have had at least two 100-plus strikeout seasons in the Minors.
The one who hasn't had a season in which he's posted 100 or more strikeouts is Reese Havens, the New York Mets selection with the 22nd pick who has had a difficult time staying healthy due to a variety of injuries, including his back, oblique, hand and quadriceps. His strikeout rate, though, has increased from 20 percent to 29 percent as he's moved from Class A-Advanced ball to Double-A competition.
Beckham is a part of a strikeout-prone group that includes Kyle Skipworth (No. 6 by Florida), Aaron Hicks (No. 14 by Minnesota), Allan Dykstra (No. 23 by San Diego), and Anthony Hewitt (No. 24 by Philadelphia).
In three full Minor League seasons, Tim Beckham has posted 100-plus strikeouts each year after registering 44 strikeouts in 183 at-bats in his 2008 rookie ball season. In 2009, Beckham had 116 strikeouts in 491 at-bats while playing for single-A Bowling Green. In 2010, he had 119 strikeouts in 465 at-bats while playing for A-Advanced Charlotte. This past season, while playing for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, Beckham posted 120 strikeouts in 524 at-bats. But his strikeout rate increased from 22 percent at Montgomery to 27 percent at Durham.
For those who would argue that pitching becomes tougher on each increased level, I bring up the case of Ike Davis, who was drafted 18th overall by the New York Mets in the same draft and batted .264 with 19 home runs, 71 RBIs and 72 walks in 523 at-bats of the 2010 season. The Mets first-baseman is the only position player who has been called up from the 2008 draft who had a season in which he struck out more than 100 times during a minor league season -- 112 times, in fact, in 429 combined at-bats while with A-Advanced and Double-A affiliates in 2009.
But Davis demonstrated he had figured it out at the plate in spring training with the Mets, leading the team with a .480 average with three home runs. Then, at the beginning of the 2010 Minor League season with Triple-A Buffalo, he batted .364 with just five strikeouts in 33 at-bats and was called up for his big league debut on April 19.
Despite having the strongest season of his four-year career in 2011 with career highs in homers (12), hits (142), RBIs (70) and OPS (.736), Beckham's strikeout totals are still a cause for concern. To call this coming spring an important one for the former No. 1 pick would be an understatement, so Beckham must use the Arizona Fall League as a building block for improvement. Considering Beckham is a part of a draft that includes Davis, Buster Posey (Giants), Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), Gordon Beckham (White Sox), and Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays), Beckham's clock has sped up mightily.
Beckham has seen his ranking by Baseball America among Rays prospects drop from second to sixth to 15th this year and then 19th after the acquisition of the Cubs' prized prospect Hak-Ju Lee. Not only has Lee performed better at the plate, with 94 strikeouts in 500 combined at-bats while batting .292 with Charlotte and Montgomery, the 20-year-old has outshined Beckham in the field.
Lee had 18 errors in 542 chances at shortstop over the 2011 campaign while Beckham recorded 22 errors in 546 chances at the same position. Lee has a .945 fielding percentage in his three Minor League seasons compared to Beckham's .941 fielding percentage over the course of four seasons.
Earlier this season, Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis expressed concern over Beckham's development and doubted he would stay at shortstop.
"Beckham was supposed to be a potential five-tool shortstop, or at least a four-tool shortstop with average speed," Callis said. "But after three pro seasons, it's pretty evident he won't be a shortstop because he has fringy speed and isn't athletic enough to stay there long-term. And that presents a problem, because the best fit will be third base, and he hasn't shown he can hit enough to be a regular there."
Beckham has shown some a glimpse of improvement over 15 games and 61 at-bats so far in the Arizona Fall League, batting .279 with four home runs, five doubles and 14 RBIs. While Beckham has had some impressive games – a 4-for-6 game with two doubles and two triples, a 1-for-3 game with a two-run homer, and a 2-for-4 game with a double and homer -- , his strikeout rate of 29.5 percent is still alarming.
If he can put up power numbers like he's been doing, though, in which he's posted a .623 slugging percentage and a 1.028 OPS, the Rays will appreciate this come spring. But if he duplicates his 2011 Minor League numbers -- .408 slugging and .736 OPS --, then the Rays will send him down once again and possibly send him on his way for good.
Based in St. Petersburg, Fla., Chris Girandola has been a sports journalist for over eight years. After receiving his Master of Arts in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Girandola took his talents to New York, where he worked as an associate reporter for MLB.com covering the New York Mets. Following this stint, Girandola was hired as a regular contributor for Major League Baseball Advanced Media. His credits also include the Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times, Naples News, Florida Football Magazine, Kentucky Basketball Magazine, and Tampa Bay Business Journal. Girandola has also dabbled in collegiate athletics as a member of the St. Mary's College basketball team and is a coach for high school hoops.