It took almost six years, but for the first time on September 19th, 2013, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop and former first overall pick Tim Beckham made his major league debut at the age of 23. Beckham, once a highly touted shortstop from Griffin High School in Georgia, made the most out of his major league debut, tapping a single in a pinch-hit spot for Matt Joyce. Although the Rays lost the game to the Texas Rangers, 8-2, Beckham certainly had to feel good about finally breaking through after nearly half a decade of minor league toil.
Beckham came from what can now be considered one of the better draft classes for hitters in history, being drafted ahead of the likes of Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey, Jason Castro, and Jason Kipnis, among others. Because he was a high schooler, it was naturally assumed that Beckham would have to wait a few years before his time came. However, nobody expected him to take that long.
A combination of growing pains, drug suspensions, and a dearth of talent at the shortstop position ultimately led to Beckham’s prolonged minor league career.
Although Beckham’s development went the typical route in his early minor league career (by 2010, he had made it to the High-A level), it was his time in AAA which took the longest. Beckham played for the Durham Bulls from the latter half of 2011-2013. Although he had a reasonable start to his AAA career with a modest .256/5/13 triple crown line, his development was halted in 2012 when he was suspended in violation of MLB’s drug agreement. It was Beckham’s second suspension. Despite his growing pains and drug problem, Tampa Bay must have seen something in him, as they added him to the 40 man roster in preparation for the following season. In addition, Beckham once again put up pedestrian numbers, with a .256/6/28 crown line.
This season was Beckham’s first full season in Triple-A, and he had plenty to show. Hitting a far more respectable .276, Beckham’s power dipped slightly as he only hit four home runs, but he did add 51 RBI.
Beckham’s debut shows that he could still be an interesting player to watch, and that there may still be a decent career in him. He certainly met the first of many expectations on Friday by making his big league debut, since the common draft era, only three first overall picks have never made the big leagues, catcher Steve Chilcott in 1966, pitcher Brien Taylor in 1991, and shortstop/pitcher Matt Bush in 2004, with an additional two having just started their pro careers in Carlos Correa (2012) and Mark Appel (2013).
The expectation for next year is that Beckham will have finally outgrown Triple-A. In all likelihood, if the Rays deem him ready, Yunel Escobar will likely be moved to another team and Beckham will be given every opportunity in the spring to prove that he can cement the position.
With Tim Beckham finally making his debut, the Class of 2008 has 26 of the 30 first round picks (not including the compensatory picks) play at least one major league game. The only players who have yet to make their major league debuts are as follows:
New York Mets shortstop Reese Havens (Currently in AAA Las Vegas)
New York Mets (Originally San Diego Padres) first baseman Allan Dykstra (Currently in AA Binghamton)
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Anthony Hewitt (Currently in AA Reading)
Chicago Cubs (Originally Minnesota Twins) pitcher Carlos Gutierrez (Highest level was AAA Rochester, currently in AA Tennessee)
There is a small chance that this could be the first first round class to have all the first round picks (not including the compensatory round) play at least one major league game. In order for that to happen, the above players mentioned need to have monster minor league seasons and hope to have their contributions recognized by their parent clubs. Havens, Dykstra, and Gutierrez all are in the 26-27 year threshold, which means that while they will not likely enjoy long careers, they still could carve out decent supporting roles. Given Gutierrez is a pitcher, his capacity could be as a reliever, and given that relievers are technically open to making their debuts at any time in their baseball careers, even in their late 30’s. he could be next. As for Hewitt, although he did come out of high school, he stands the lowest chance of making the big leagues. Many have already labeled him a bust and a reach since he came out of Salisbury. Considering he is a full 2-3 years younger than his fellow draft mates, he still falls in the fringe prospect category, meaning he still has time to make a meaningful impact.
Prospect junkies should keep a close eye on these four players next year. It will be interesting to see if the 2008 class can do what 43 classes before them couldn’t do.