Earlier this week, Rays Prospects had a great breakdown of Hak Ju Lee (recently acquired from Chicago) and Tim Beckham (drafted ahead of Buster Posey – poor kid is going to be the Rays’ equivalent of Sam Bowie unless something changes for him and for Posey).
Based on RP’s statistical analysis it looks like Lee is better than Beckham both offensively and defensively. (Incidentally, you should be reading Rays Prospects. It is an awesome resource.) That seems to confirm our speculation that the Rays have decided Beckham is not a big-league shortstop.
According to the experts, Lee is a year behind Beckham and won’t make it to the majors for 3 years (or, the year known in the Rays’ front office as Reid Brignac’s second arbitration year). If everything goes according to plan, that leaves the Rays with the kind of flexibility the build around. If Brignac pans out, the Rays can buy out his arbitration years and have a nice franchise cornerstone. If he doesn’t pan out, or gets too expensive (see Bartlett, Jason), the Rays can move Brignac for prospects and replace him with Lee, a young gun ready to play three years at league minimum.
That leaves the question about Beckham’s ultimate future. I suppose it is possible that Beckham will go the way of other draft busts and turn into a 6-year minor league free agent. But I think the Rays have a different plan. Beckham will probably join the ranks of failed Rays shortstops turned super utility players. The Rays have had success converting BJ Upton (who was a Super-U guy before becoming an elite CF), Ben Zobrist, and even Eliot Johnson when it became clear that they were never going to be everyday shortstops. Why not give Beckham the same opportunity?
Everyone seems to agree that Beckham is a great athlete. In fact, it looks like the only reason the experts think that Beckham is a “bust” is because he was drafted first overall and projected to be at shortstop and hitting in the 3-hole everyday. If we lower those expectations, doesn’t Beckham look a lot more promising? Also, if we take the pressure of playing shortstop everyday (something he doesn’t seem to be up for defensively) off him, would he flourish at the plate and turn in the kind of power numbers we expected?
I don’t know, but I bet the Rays organization gives us a chance to find those answers in the next 2-3 years.