Former top pick Beckham continues climb

Former top pick Beckham continues climb

It seems like so long ago, yet it's been just two years since Tim Beckham was the center of attention.

It was June 2008 when Beckham's name was the first called at the First-Year Player Draft. With that distinction came the typical expectations of a top pick, a toolsy high school athlete who could stay at shortstop and had the label "future superstar" placed upon him from the get-go.

The Rays certainly knew it wasn't necessarily going to be a quick ride to the big leagues for Beckham, as it has been, relatively speaking, for Pedro Alvarez, Brian Matusz and Buster Posey, other top five picks in that Draft class. They were all college players, while Beckham came from the Georgia high school ranks, so Tampa Bay was more than willing to be patient.

So far, it's been a slow climb for the talented shortstop, now 20 years old. He's gone one rung at a time, hitting a pedestrian .263/.332/.371 in his two-plus professional seasons. It's been a steep learning curve for Beckham, who has been one of the younger position players at each level he's played, but he claims the pressures of being the No. 1 pick have not stood in his way.

"It doesn't come into play at all," Beckham said. "I still have to put up numbers like everyone else. I have to prove myself like everyone else. That really doesn't bother me.

"I never let it get to me. I just went about my business the right way, like I've always done."

Beckham has spent his second full season of pro ball with the Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. While most of his FSL colleagues are beginning their offseasons now, Beckham and his fellow Tampa Bay Rays prospects in Charlotte get to play some more in the postseason. That comes courtesy of a first-half title, one the Stone Crabs won by going 43-26 in the South Division. While they didn't sweep both halves -- they'll kick off the playoffs by playing at second-half division champion Bradenton on Tuesday -- they did finish over .500 in that half, giving them a very impressive .576 winning percentage for the year.

The Minor Leagues may be mostly about development and individual players moving up the ladder, but breeding winning players has become important, and the Stone Crabs would like nothing more than to deliver a championship to the organization.

"We're looking at it like we want to win," said Beckham, whose Charlotte club joins Durham as one of two playoff-bound affiliates in the Rays system. "It's great for the organization, even though we're not the big league club. That's a good thing. If we all go up next year to Double-A, hopefully we can do more good things for the organization."

Whether Beckham will be deemed ready to make one more step up the ladder remains to be seen. He has struggled in making adjustments -- to the tougher league, the weather, the big ballparks. Scouts who saw him in the early part of the year didn't think he belonged in the league, that he had trouble slowing the game down.

"I started off rough, but everybody goes through it," said Beckham, who hit just .212/.308/.370 in the first half. "While I was going through it, I think I showed a good attitude and character. I think I handled it pretty well and got better this year.

"You have to stay strong, keep your head up and keep playing. I showed I could do that. You have to look at the positive things. You can't be negative; no one has time to do that. I feel comfortable right now."

Beckham isn't the only one who sees that in his play. The same scouts who were dubious early feel he has made great strides over the course of the season. While they might have thought a move to center field would be needed early on, Beckham started letting his natural ability take over and started making the plays at shortstop, and many now think he'll be able to stay in the middle of the infield.

Offensively, he turned it up a notch as well, hitting .285 in the second half while getting on base at a .370 clip. He's stolen 22 bases on the year, though he's been thrown out 14 times, something he'll continue to improve on as he develops.

"The competition, the pitching, gets better moving up," Beckham said. "You have to make adjustments. The hitters adjust more quickly here, too. You're growing up, getting more experience than the players in the South Atlantic League."

It's an experience he'll be sure to cherish, with the hopes of taking the winning attitude from this season all the way to the big leagues, eventually. He sees what's going on in St. Petersburg these days and understands that the expectation to compete and win at the top is becoming standard. If the Stone Crabs make it all the way through and win the Florida State League crown, they'll be able to enjoy it, then watch and hopefully share the celebration with the big club as it marches toward the postseason.

"I hope so," Beckham said about Tampa Bay's chances. "I wish them the best of luck. Hoepfully, they'll pull away with it. They've been playing good ball. Things are looking good."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.