Beckham could be nice surprise for Rays

Beckham could be nice surprise for Rays

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rays squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who will surprise?

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tim Beckham has been an enigma since the Rays drafted him with the top pick of the 2008 Draft.

Buster Posey got selected in that Draft, so did Eric Hosmer and, as many Rays fans are prone to point out, Beckham has not lived up to the expectations that come with being the top pick. Still, the 27-year-old has a lot of wear left on the tires. Which is why he is primed to be the biggest surprise for Tampa Bay this season.

Beckham enters Spring Training as a candidate to play second base, be a backup at shortstop, and perhaps learn to play some outfield. The chance to be the team's surprise player arrives in the fact that expectations for Beckham have been lowered considerably. That should be liberating for Beckham, and will likely put a chip on his shoulder.

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Beckham has a .238 average with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs in 151 Major League games. Last year, he hit .247 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 64 games over two stints with the Rays.

While the numbers don't jump out at you, Beckham is capable of doing a lot of good things whenever he's on the field.

Flash back to last season after the All-Star break through the end of August. During that period, Beckham batted .327/.365/.520 with seven doubles, three triples, two home runs, nine RBIs and 15 runs scored in 29 games.

In addition, Beckham's five triples in 2017 tied for 10th in the American League and were one shy of Brad Miller for the team lead. And from July 18-21 at Colorado and at Oakland, he tied a team record with hits in eight consecutive at-bats.

Beckham showed his athleticism when he played first base for the first time in his career, and played the position flawlessly. Unfortunately, some of the good he did in 2016 got derailed by a series of baserunning blunders late in the season, which prompted Tampa Bay to option him to Triple-A Durham on Sept. 1. Beckham didn't see the Major Leagues again after the move.

So how does Beckham get back into the fast lane with the Rays? For starters, he shows up at Spring Training with an outfielder's glove and presses the coaching staff to include him as an outfielder whenever possible.

Beckham has above-average speed and an above-average arm, so being able to play the position should come to him much like playing first base did.

If Beckham can be used in the outfield, it expands his versatility. Remember, he played first, second, shortstop and third last season. Add outfield to that resume, and manager Kevin Cash would be able to put Beckham in the lineup more often than not, whether in a starting role or coming off the bench.

Another check in Beckham's favor is the fact that he hits from the right side on a team that's weighted with left-handed hitters.

If Beckham manages to get on the field -- at any position, on a regular basis -- he will finally have the opportunity to show how he can hit in that situation, rather than having to hit as a bench player, which is extremely difficult to do.

If Beckham shows up with his usual dose of enthusiasm, competes for at-bats and wins that competition, he'll shine. And the Rays will have a nice surprise.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.