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Plenty of unknown surrounds Tim Beckham’s role as the Orioles leadoff hitter

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Beckham shined for the Orioles in 2018. Will his abilities be enough to provide a consistent presence at the top of the lineup?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By now you’ve surely heard that Manny Machado (who is still an Oriole) will be making the move to shortstop for the 2018 season. That’s been the noteworthy bit of news over the past few days, but it doesn’t come without another intriguing side-note that includes Tim Beckham’s near future with the team.

The Beckham move wasn’t earth-shattering last season, but it took a fairly notable turn as he progressed and continued to work in the every-day lineup. In 50 games with the Birds he hit .306/.348/.523, displaying plenty of pop and perhaps most importantly, on-base ability. Now, he’ll have what you might call a prominent role on the team moving forward — the leadoff bat.

Here’s Beckham’s quote on Buck Showalter telling him he’d be hitting first, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun:

“He did say that and I would love to be the full[-time] leadoff guy for the Orioles,” Beckham said. “I think I bring I bring enough energy and a lot of passion for the game. I think the energy will rub off on a lot of players and a lot of teammates, so I think we’ll have a big year.”

Taking a quick thought back at the 2017 season, the move seems to make plenty of sense. Beckham found his way on the base paths plenty over the last two months of the season and, as he eluded to, brought a much-needed spark that kept the team up and moving forward as the season wrapped up. That .348 OBP certainly didn’t hurt things.

One look at the roster and there ultimately isn’t a better option for the leadoff role. It’s not as though Buck is tossing darts at a board and we happened to land upon Beckham’s name. It’s a calculated move, and it’s a wise one in terms of the numbers game.

Also, as a side note: if we’re just looking at on-base percentage, the next best option to lead off games would be Trey Mancini. That might say more about the Orioles roster as a whole, but it underscores the point — there really isn’t a better option.

With that said, it isn’t as though there aren’t question marks attached to the decision.

The obvious drawback comes from his career OBP, which sits at .310 over 288 games at the big-league level. And yes, while a change of scenery might’ve been the move that sparked Beckham and pushed his career into the right direction, it’s unreasonable to think he’ll continue at his .348 pace over the course of the entire year. The .310 number is the one that we’re looking at as the projection, not entirely ideal.

With that also comes Beckham’s walk rate (just above 6.0%), which sits fairly low for a leadoff man. He’s not going to be your classic pesky matchup — not the end of the world, but it’s something to monitor as the year progresses. Toss in his career 29.7 strikeout percentage and you wonder if we’ve found his potential emphasis as he heads into spring training.

It’s also worth noting that over the course of his career, Beckham has a career .299 OBP in 221 at-bats in games he’s hit leadoff. How much of that is projectable is up for debate. Regardless, we’re heading into a 2018 season with limited info that tells us Beckham is a lock to succeed in the new role.

There are question marks, but it’s January. A lot can change between now and April — and certainly, at least in terms of pitching, it’s going to.

The Beckham batting leadoff decision has potential to work out; it’s merely a matter of whether or not he can somewhat continue the pace he left off with in 2017. If he can, that’s one less worry for Showalter and Co. in a year that looks like it’ll be filled with plenty of obstacles.