Beckhams of Georgia could rule the Draft
Shortstops pace the pack of middle infielders in 2008
GRIFFIN, Ga. -- The pipeline was long assumed to have run dry in this remote corner of Griffin High School's athletic complex. No prospect had emerged from the Bears' Den since 1997. And 11 years, after all, is an agonizingly long wait for attention.
Thanks to Tim Beckham, the wait is mercifully over.
Major League teams' brain trusts -- scouts, special assistants, general managers -- have again descended upon this tiny city 40 miles south of Atlanta to gauge their future.
With a GM's special assistant in attendance for a recent Griffin practice, Beckham, the team's much-ballyhooed shortstop, fielded grounder after grounder, turning an effortless double play with a crisp underhand flip.
Beckham then headed into the cage for batting practice. An assistant coach hurled balls from behind the L-screen some 40 feet away. Beckham intently stared as the ball got deeper in the zone and then -- whoosh! -- his hands swept through the hitting area with unmistakable speed.
It is a lightning-fast transfer of power.
"I get that a lot," Beckham said with a laugh after his hitting clinic concluded.
Everyone knows the Draft beckons for Beckham.
After practice wound down and he was done speaking with a reporter, Griffin coach Jamie Cassady summoned Beckham from the dugout. The special assistant wanted to talk.
Beckham calmly took a seat behind home plate while shaking hands with the assistant through the netting. He stared down at the ground as the assistant talked, his coach carrying on the other half of the conversation. Beckham chipped in with a few comments, flashed his golden smile, then retreated to the dugout, where his teammates were eagerly waiting.
They were oblivious to the fact that practice had ended 30 minutes earlier. Everyone, it seems, is just happy to be along for this ride.
Such is life for Tim Beckham -- the interviews, the projections, the handshakes, the autographs. It's the spoils of being King of the Preps.
Yet here's the thing: He may not even be the best shortstop with the surname Beckham in the state of Georgia.
That distinction could very well belong to Gordon, who is not related and who plays at the University of Georgia.
Back in Athens, Gordon Beckham's sole focus is on winning an SEC championship. The Bulldogs already have accomplished a goal few thought possible: winning the SEC regular-season title when they were projected to finish near the bottom in the East. For this revival, Gordon Beckham deserves much of the credit. He'll likely deflect it.
"There's no doubt his time is limited here and we need to make sure that it is as enjoyable as it possibly can be," Georgia coach David Perno said.
With Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft about three weeks away, the question is worth asking: Which Beckham -- Gordon or Tim -- is the better prospect in the Class of 2008?
It may be Tim, who already has the physique and skill set of a Major League player.
But it may be Gordon, who, in spite of his wiry frame, has slugged his way into the National Collegiate Player of the Year conversation with 23 home runs in a difficult conference.
Many prognosticators have pegged Tim Beckham as the best prospect in the Draft, with his combination of size -- 6-foot-2, 190 pounds -- and raw talent. Baseball America has rated him the best high school prospect in the country.
In 89 at-bats this season for Griffin, Tim batted .472 with five homers and 37 RBIs. He didn't get many pitches to hit -- he walked 23 times -- as opposing hurlers would often pitch around the lineup's most dangerous threat.
"It's frustrating, yeah," he said. "I was facing 90 [mph] all summer, and then I come back here and see anywhere from 78 to 72."
Tim faced elite pitchers while playing in the nation's premier high school events. He was named the best prospect at the East Coast Showcase and earned MVP honors at the AFLAC All-American Game, which drew the 32 best high school players in the nation.
He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, and hits for power and average, though he may need a few years in the Minors before he's big league ready. He has signed a letter of intent to play at Southern California, but he likely won't attend if he lands anywhere in the top 10, as projected.
"I hear I'm a five-tool player," said Tim, who stole 18 bases and struck out only six times this season. "I know I'm a five-tool player, but I don't really let it get to me, all that stuff on the Internet and off-the-field business."
This spring he has met with each of the GMs who hold the top five picks in the Draft, which will be held June 5-6. Cassady said that each GM has seen at least one of Tim's games and practices, and some have even taken him out of class to discuss his future.
"It's overwhelming, for sure," Tim said. "I never thought it would be like this -- everybody calling, asking to come to your house and coming to practice. It gets pretty hectic, but it's just the process. I don't really think it gets to me. I'm still doing what I love to do."
This 18-year-old has been under big league scrutiny the entire season. It certainly hasn't affected him -- note the aforementioned stats -- and that carries some significance, his coach said.
"He's handled it pretty well, amazingly," said Cassady, who said that the last big leaguer to come through Griffin's program was Jeff Treadway in 1997. "He's just Tim, the same ol' guy he's always been."
The same can't be said for Gordon Beckham, who has transitioned from a free-wheeling freshman into one of the most disciplined hitters Perno has seen since he became Georgia's coach in 2001.
This season, Gordon's stats rank among the nation's best: a .401 batting average, 23 homers, 57 RBIs, a .811 slugging percentage and a .511 on-base percentage. All of which is enough to at least thrust the junior into the conversation for National Player of the Year, though he thinks that his good friend, Florida State's Buster Posey, will win the award.
Nevertheless, Gordon's season to remember at Georgia was enough to vault him up the Draft boards entering this crucial final month. He is considered a bona fide top 10 prospect.
"If you told me I was going to do this before the season, I would have said, 'You're crazy,' " Gordon said. "It has worked out really well, and I've played every game, played every pitch, and I haven't looked ahead."
He batted .380 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 28 games against ranked opponents. And, arguably, no player has done more to boost his Draft stock this season.
The six-foot, 185-pound slugger was invited last fall to the Cape Cod collegiate wood-bat league, and he hit a league-high nine home runs. He hasn't slowed his pace this spring, and tied Georgia's single-season home run record with his 23rd in the second-to-last game of the regular season on Friday.
It's a stark contrast from his first year at Georgia, when he was prone to the strikeout and only occasionally possessed enough power to be a threat in the third spot of the order. Perno altered his shortstop's approach, and within weeks, saw immediate results.
"Gordon had no two-strike adjustment the first two years, and now he is as good as anyone I have ever coached with two strikes," Perno said.
Now the right-hander can spray the ball to all fields with power, even late in the count. What's more, his defense has steadily improved over the last three years, as he made only 10 errors in 153 attempts this season. He made 16 last season.
Midseason, when Gordon's stats drew national attention, those around the program began murmuring about the Draft.
"I was getting a lot of that," he said of the pre-Draft buzz. "It was getting in my head, and I didn't really want to hear it anymore. So I've kind of told everybody that I appreciate getting the compliments, but this is not my deal."
So he hasn't much focused on his Draft prospects while in the middle of Georgia's most successful regular season in years. But that's not to say he doesn't constantly think about what his future holds.
"I try to play every day and not worry about it, but I try to show people that I can be the best, and that's what every player wants to do," said Gordon, an honor student who said he wouldn't rule out a return to Georgia for his senior season if the monetary benefits of the Draft didn't outweigh those of a potential business degree.
A shortstop his entire life, he isn't fixated on playing that position in the Majors.
"I want to play in the big leagues, and if that means I'm playing right field, that's what I'm doing," he said. "I'd like to play shortstop, though, and I think I can."
Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.