02/23/09 3:01 PM EST
Hardworker Beckham getting feet wet
No. 1 overall pick watching, learning at Spring Training with Rays
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft appears joyful, whether it's going through his paces at shortstop, swinging the bat or just slipping on a Major League uniform, reminding anybody watching him that baseball is a game, and it's supposed to be fun.
Beckham, 19, received a $6.15 million signing bonus from the Rays last June after being selected first. He then made his professional debut at rookie level Princeton, where he hit .243 with two home runs and 14 RBIs before finishing the season at short-season Class A Hudson Valley, hitting .333 in two games.
Playing every day "was hard," said Beckham, when asked about the adjustment to professional baseball. "You've got to eat right. You've got to make sure you get enough rest."
Signing Beckham quickly and having him begin his professional career was a priority to both the Rays and Beckham.
"It was pretty big," Beckham said. "I signed early to play, and that's what I did. Hopefully that will help me out in the long run."
Baseball America ranked Beckham as the No. 1 high school prospect in the country entering the Draft. The right-handed hitter batted .482 (53-for-110) with six home runs, 13 doubles, 41 RBIs, 58 runs scored and 23 steals in his senior season, leading Griffin to the Region 4-AAAA championship and to its first state championship series since 1981.
Beckham is now a non-roster invitee to Tampa Bay's camp at the Charlotte Sports Complex, meaning he has gone from high school field to a Major League clubhouse in less than a year. And not just any clubhouse, but the clubhouse of the American League champions -- an experience that could be daunting.
"It's been a great experience to be here with all the big league players," Beckham said. "They've taught me a lot -- [Jason] Bartlett, [Reid] Brignac. I just watch and learn. Pay attention to detail."
But Beckham is not intimidated.
"Nah, it's definitely not intimidating," Beckham said. "It does make me want to work harder and get here quicker."
Incumbent Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett said he couldn't imagine being in Major League camp at age 19.
"He's handling himself pretty well," Bartlett said. "He knows the guys are going to [tease him] and he's taking it pretty well. So far he hasn't had any problems."
Beckham always will be "the top pick of the Draft" wherever he goes, which Pat Burrell, who was the top pick of the 1998 Draft, said makes him stand out.
"With all the pressure that comes along with that, as a player, there are a lot of expectations," Burrell said. "To be able to accept how things are going is probably the hard thing, because you're going to go through struggles and to be able to accept what's happening -- you just can't get too frustrated."
If asked, Burrell said his advice to Beckham would be to "try and take things in stride, even though at times, it looks like everything is happening really fast" and to "try and slow the game down a little bit."
"And, above all, be a good teammate," Burrell said. "I think that carries you a lot further ... because no matter where he ends up playing this year, the players in that clubhouse are going to look at him as the first pick."
Beckham's skills are obvious -- quick feet, soft hands -- and when he flicks his wrists, his bat creates line drives. In addition to having all the skills, Beckham also possesses another endearing quality: He likes to work hard.
"I'll tell you one thing -- the kid wants to work," infield coach Tom Foley said. "He's a great kid. He wants to work. He's never going to shy away from it. And that's going to make him better. He'll be good because of his work ethic."
And the grin?
"Yeah, he does have a great grin," Foley said. "When you just look at him, you can tell he's a good kid."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.