Draft 2008: Beckham's tools raw but impressive

Georgia shortstop could go No. 1 to Tampa Bay

Tim Beckham had a whirlwind weekend, from playing for the Georgia scholastic baseball championship Friday night, to graduation at Griffin High School the next day.

Now, the real fun begins.

He could be the No. 1 overall pick in Major League Baseball's draft Thursday, if the Tampa Bay Rays, who are known to be leaning toward him, call his name.

If the Rays pass, he could go No. 2 to the Pirates, who count him among their three finalists.

"I wouldn't say I'm really nervous," Beckham said yesterday. "I've had so many other things going on, concentrating on my high school ball and everything else that I haven't really been thinking about it."

What does his gut tell him?

Run-up to
MLB's Draft 2008

Today: Georgia's Tim Beckham is the top high school talent available. Does that make him less of a known commodity? Or the one with the highest upside?

Tuesday: For months, Vanderbilt University's Pedro Alvarez was the consensus No. 1. Then, he broke a bone in his hand. Is he still No. 1?

Wednesday: It is not often that a superior athlete goes behind the plate. But that is where Buster Posey, a converted shortstop and pitcher, has excelled at Florida State.

"I'm hoping to go in the top four, honestly. I know Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh like me a lot, and that's nice. But I'm not thinking about a number."

Beckham, 18, is seen by many scouts as the five-tool talent with the highest ceiling in a draft that is not viewed as being especially rich. He batted .500 in the regular season for Griffin, with five home runs, 31 RBIs and 16 steals. Then, most impressive, he batted .667 in the playoffs in leading Griffin to a surprising berth in the state final, which it lost Friday.

Still, Beckham's overall showing in 2008 was considered by some to be a slight downgrade from the previous year, where he batted .429 as part of an elite traveling team, including an astounding 18-for-21 tear.

From the scouts' standpoint, he fits the modern mold of the power shortstop, with good size at 6 feet, 180 pounds, a sweet swing with some pop, a flashy glove, a strong arm and above-average speed. He has been likened to Barry Larkin.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged the talent level.

"Tim Beckham is a gifted athlete who does the things at the plate that you want to see a young hitter do," Huntington said. "He stays inside, doesn't try to force it, doesn't try to launch, but he has bat-head speed and bat-to ball ability."

Some of that talent is raw, which perhaps is understandable given that Beckham abandoned baseball for basketball from age 11-14 before joining Griffin's junior varsity.

"He shows you the ability to play shortstop at a very high level, but he also can butcher a ball that a major league shortstop makes in his sleep," Huntington said.

All other finalists on the Rays' and Pirates' lists are college players, so the most obvious strike against taking Beckham would be that it should take him longer -- perhaps three or four years -- to reach the majors. By contrast, Vanderbilt University third baseman Pedro Alvarez could be in the majors by late 2009, with Florida State University catcher Buster Posey not far behind.

The Pirates have insisted they will not choose based on how quickly a player arrives, a criteria that previous management used -- and cited -- in selecting pitchers Bryan Bullington and Danny Moskos ahead of visibly superior talent.

Beckham's view is that he could succeed on both fronts.

"I see all those college guys, but I feel like I know the game a lot," he said. "I'm not saying I'll be in the majors next year, but, if I work hard, I think I can get there pretty quickly."

He seems aware that this could be especially true if drafted by the Pirates, whose system is thin at all positions, especially at shortstop.

"I like the Pirates. They're not a bad club, and they've got some good people running the team. Maybe it will be easier for me to get promoted if I'm with them, but that wouldn't change how I do anything, you know?"

The Pirates are leaning toward Alvarez, but their area scout for northern Georgia, Greg Schilz, attended Beckham's state final Friday. Jimmy Beckham, Tim's father, reiterated yesterday that only the Rays and Pirates have had extensive meetings with the family and that he expects his son to be taken in the top two. Tim Beckham is represented by agent Greg Genske.

NOTES -- Alvarez's Vanderbilt team was eliminated from its NCAA regional yesterday with an 11-10 loss to Oklahoma in Tempe, Ariz. Alvarez went 2 for 5 with a double and concluded his junior year with a .317 average, nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 167 at-bats. ... Posey had a monster day in pushing his Florida State team through the regionals, homering twice in each of the Seminoles' two blowout victories, 24-9 against Bucknell and 17-8 against Tulane, in Tallahassee, Fla. His output for the day: 5 for 8 with a walk and 10 RBIs.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published June 2, 2008 4:00 AM


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