The next 30 days could go a long way towards determining the future of two major prospects for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee.
For Beckham, the stakes have been ratcheted up several notches considering Lee’s solid progression through the Minors.
While Beckham has gone from a No. 1-overall pick and a former member in seemingly every scout’s top 100 list, Lee has turned his superb defense and developing offense on the minor league level into a No. 12 ranking in Keith Law’s 2012 Top 100 Prospects.
When I talked with Beckham at the Rays Fanfest on Saturday, he expressed the importance of having a good spring.
“If I play the way I know how to, then it’s ultimately not in my hands,” Beckham said when asked if he could see himself breaking camp with the Rays at the beginning of April. “I definitely feel I could make the team.”
Beckham said the changes he made in Durham and his performance in the Arizona Fall League have given him the confidence to succeed in Spring Training.
“I ended up pretty good in Durham and I was happy with the way I played,” said Beckham, who compiled a .744 OPS with the Bulls with five home runs in 106 at-bats. “I wouldn’t say I have more confidence than I did two years ago, but I definitely feel better about where I am now.”
Beckham batted just .244 in 22 games in the Arizona Fall League, but he exhibited the type of power that could give him an edge this spring. His .853 OPS with four homers and 15 RBIs are a sign when he squares the ball up, he is a threat.
“The pitchers (in the Arizona Fall League) are legit so you pretty much can’t miss your pitch when you get it, because they’ll let you know,” said Beckham, who also had 25 strikeouts with the Surprise Saguaros. “If a pitcher makes a mistake, you have to square it up. That’s the feeling you want to keep.”
Could this be the year of Beckham?
Like the rise of Desmond Jennings last season, when the 25-year-old outfielder turned his second Major League call-up into a productive campaign over the last 67 games of the Rays’ 2011 campaign, the Tampa Bay organization might just pull the trigger on Beckham if everything falls into place, whether that happens at the beginning of the season or anytime throughout the 2012 schedule.
"If I get the opportunity, I'm going to take full advantage of it," Beckham said. "There's no turning back. It's all about seizing it when it comes."
While Scout.com’s National Baseball Expert Frankie Piliere projects Lee moving ahead of Beckham at shortstop in the organization’s depth chart, he also has seen promising returns on Beckham's improvement this past year.
“A couple of years ago I saw him - shortly after he had been drafted - and he was a guy that really needed to make some significant strides,” Piliere said. “He needed to come along a little bit and there were some holes in his swing. But the good news is that I saw a lot of changes. I don't think he is quite there yet. But as long as I am seeing guys making strides and getting better, I'm still willing to be patient with them. I think that's happening with him. I did see a little bit more power from him, he was driving the ball a little bit better and he's not chasing as many pitches as he used to. He's far from a sure-thing and I'm not sure he is going to be the guy that everyone expected when he was taken in the first round. But I do think he is still a very viable prospect and I think there is a lot of reason to be excited about him.”
The excitement level exists in fans, as well.
“I think Tim Beckham might provide a spark in the middle of the season like Desmond Jennings did last year,” said Lenny Gildow, a long-time Rays fan from St. Petersburg. “I know there have been a lot of doubters out there about him, but I really think he’s going to be the one surprise this year.”
As Beckham said, time will tell. For him, the clock speeds up beginning February 26, when he and the other eleven non-roster position players report to big league camp.
Based in St. Petersburg, Fla., Chris Girandola has been a sports journalist for over eight years and is currently the Rays Senior Writer for RaysDigest.com. His other writing credits include MLB.com, the Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times, Naples News, Florida Football Magazine, KentuckyBasketball Magazine, and Tampa Bay Business Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at @cgrand
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