When the Orioles acquired Tim Beckham from the Tampa Bay Rays for short-season pitching prospect Tobias Myers, my initial reaction, and the reaction of many Orioles fans I have to assume, was “meh.” He plays well enough to not kill you on the field, plays a premium defensive position, one where the Orioles will soon need to replace J.J. Hardy, and has multiple years of team control.
Trading for Beckham was both a buy move for this season and a chance to help them compete for a few years down the road as well.
However, Beckham has set the world on fire after coming to the Orioles. He won American League Player of the Week and has batted .536/.552/1.036 with three home runs, six RBIs, and seven runs scored in his first seven games with the Orioles. Not to mention some highlights with the glove as well.
His talent as a first round pick has clearly been on display. For his part, Beckham says that consistent playing time and not worrying about whether he is going to get the start or be pinch hit for has played a major role in his success with the Orioles.
The former first overall pick in the 2008 draft has largely been seen as a disappointment in his career.
Beckham was a highly rated prospect appearing in the Top 100 prospects for both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus in both 2009 and 2010 after falling out of both lists. He never hit very well at any minor league stop along the way, but he always showed his raw talent and athleticism.
After the first overall draft pick status waned and as he worked his way slowly up the ladder he ended up getting a cup of coffee in the majors in 2013. However, he lost most of 2014 to an ACL injury. Then in 2015 and 2016 he switched between utility player for the Rays and being in AAA Durham.
His past is not full of injuries, besides the 2014 ACL tear he was on the disabled list once in 2015 and once again in 2017. The stint this season was for the minimum ten days. He was simply never given much of chance in Tampa Bay to get consistent playing time. In 2015 he only played 82 games with the big club and that went down to 64 in 2016.
He came into 2017 as the starting shortstop, and he started pretty much game the Rays had from April to May. However, his playing time started getting scarcer beginning in June and then the Rays acquired Adeiny Hechavarria and Beckham’s name started to appear in trade rumors.
That brings us to now. As a 27-year-old nine years removed from when he was drafted Beckham is getting a shot now to take the reins as a starting shortstop. With Hardy out for the for what appears to be a while longer in 2017 and the Orioles need for a starting shortstop in 2018, Beckham has a place to start full time in the coming months.
Beckham has said his struggles come from not being able to play all of time. IN the above linked interview he talks about how he always had to look over his shoulder in Tampa Bay or was a part of a platoon and never got a chance to start everyday. He also was sent down in 2016 due to lack of hustle. Maybe it was an attitude problem or maybe it was frustration at his situation. So far with the Orioles he has shown plenty of hustle.
For his part, his peripheral numbers do look much better in 2017. Beckham is hitting the ball harder in 2017 than he has ever before. He has a 42.2 percent hard hit rate, nearly eight points above his career rate of 36.4 percent. He is also avoiding soft contact with a career low 15.5 percent of his balls in play being of the soft variety.
Beckham is also hitting lines drives at a career high 24 percent and infield fly balls at a career low 1.6 percent. On top of that, his absurdly high 23.4 percent home run to fly ball ratio will regress, but it does indicate that he is mashing the ball. His plate discipline numbers look remarkably similar to his career numbers other than a solid increase in contact. It's good to make more contact if you are hitting the ball harder.
Many of these numbers are influenced by a very hot week with the Orioles, but some of the signs were there of a better hitter in Tampa Bay. He has a career OPS of .752 at this point, but over the last calendar year in 106 games he has an OPS of .796.
Also, intriguingly, in 127 home games (mostly with Tampa Bay, obviously) he has a career OPS of .705, but in 118 away games he has a career OPS of .804. Maybe he dislikes Tropicana Field as much as the rest of us.
Does consistent playing time make a difference? His numbers in Tampa in 2017 between April and May (when he was getting consistent starts) and between June and July (when he was not) were pretty similar. But, it is possible that it is a mindset and comfort issue knowing that your replacement is sitting on the bench.
Defensively, Beckham has graded out as exactly average as a shortstop according to DRS. If he can hit a little bit better than he did in Tampa Bay and play an average shortstop he will be a good pickup of the Orioles considering they traded away very little for him.
On the flip side, there are some red flags to Beckham’s 2017 season. While so far he is getting his best results at the plate, that probably has something to do with a .380 BABIP, although he does have a career BABIP of .344. It’s nice to be fast. Alongside that paltry infield fly ball percentage and the sky high home run to fly ball ratio, Beckham is certainly due for some statistical regression.
Yet, the Orioles have found themselves a useful player who may have made a marked improvement and seems to be in a better mindset now that he has left the organization that originally selected him number one overall. The Orioles will give him the chance at both a new start and an opportunity to start with little to no pressure behind him.
Maybe that is what Beckham needed to get his career back on track. It would be nice if a change of scenery guy worked out in the Orioles favor, for once.