Despite never pulling the trigger on a significant trade at the non-waiver trade deadline as a contender, Andrew Friedman has still found ways to augment his roster with talent in the latter stages of the season. In addition to waiver-wire deals for veteran role players, Friedman has been able to dip into a deep reservoir at the minor-league level to supplement his roster with high-quality talent.
Before becoming three-time All-Star as a starting pitcher, David Price cut his teeth in the big leagues as a bullpen ace during the Rays’ 2008 run to the World Series. Fernando Perez also played a role in 2008 as a fourth outfielder slash pinch-runner. Although the Rays missed the postseason in 2009, a young Wade Davis was promoted to the major-league rotation following the late-August trade of Scott Kazmir; Davis pitched arguably his best month as an MLB starter that September.
As the Rays returned to the playoffs in 2010, Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings were plucked from the farm and inserted into a playoff race, culminating in the team’s second division title in three years. Last season, Matt Moore went from starting on opening day for the Montgomery Biscuits to starting Game One of the 2011 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers.
Looking ahead to the second half of the 2012 season, right-hander Chris Archer appears ready to become the next impact pitching prospect to make a late-season splash at the big leagues. Although Archer made just two starts for the Rays in June, it was obvious he has the makeup, athleticism, and raw stuff to get major-league hitters out. With the rotation going six-deep when Jeff Niemann returns, Archer could find a niche as a swingman or a late-inning weapon out of the bullpen as we shift focus toward September and October.
While Archer is poised to become the latest pitcher in growing line of Rays’ prospects turned stretch-run contributor, it’s less clear who the next position player will be. While the cupboard at Durham is barren, there is one name that fits the template.
In 2008, the Rays selected high school shortstop Tim Beckham over Florida State catcher Buster Posey. As the story goes, Friedman preferred Posey, but deferred to his scouting staff and selected Beckham. Posey is the leading vote-getter amongst the 2012 National League All-Stars while Beckham missed 50 games this season for a second violation of the minor-league substance abuse program. Hindsight being 20/20, Friedman would have been better off sticking to his guns and selecting an All-Star catcher, but he did not. And while Beckham has been labeled as a bust by some on the field, with some issues off of it, he is still young and talented enough to play a key role for the Rays in the future, perhaps even the near future.
Since late 2011, Beckham has amassed 240 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. In what equates to about a half season of playing time, he has produced an uninspiring line of .249/.310/.406. While the raw numbers fail to live up to the Barry Larkin comparison bestowed upon him as a teenager, there is improvement in the process that lends hope going forward.
In 111 plate appearances for the Bulls last season, Beckham managed just three walks while striking out 29 times. In 129 PA this year, he has accepted 15 walks and struck out 27 times. While the strike outs are a bit high for his power output (seven extra-base hits in 27 games), the ability to recognize and lay off pitches out of the zone is a welcomed advancement in his development. In his 67 post-suspension plate appearances, Beckham is hitting .280 with an on-base percentage approaching .375. Of his 15 walks taken this season, nine of them have come after his return.
Beckham did not use his time off to simply refocus on the game of baseball. He used his time to hopefully become a better all-round person. While working on his game at the minor-league complex in Port Charlotte, he spent a large portion of his personal time volunteering at a local Boys & Girls facility. The decision to become involved with the program was not mandated by the team, but rather a choice Beckham made on his own.
Ultimately the decision to promote Beckham to the major leagues–be it in 2012 or otherwise–will be based on much more than minor-league statistics or current roster needs. That said, if September comes, and the team’s collective shortstop performance remains underwhelming, he may be an option provided he continues to show major-league defensive ability and maturity, as well as an improving approach that can withstand a jump in competition level.
It is unlikely that all of that will happen this season, but if so, perhaps it will be Beckham, and not Archer, who supplies the biggest bang this fall.