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Rays top prospects of all-time: No. 14

After 20 years of Rays baseball, we’re counting down the top prospects in franchise history.

MLB: MAY 15 Rays at Indians Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first time in a while on our list, we have a full-time hitter. He was a controversial one.

20. SS Reid Brignac
19. RHP Matt White
18. RHP Chris Archer
17. RHP Wade Davis/LHP Jake McGee
16. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
15. 1B/LHP Brendan McKay

14. SS Tim Beckham

Acquired: No. 1 pick by Rays (2008)

Baseball America Top-100 ranks: 28 (2008), 67 (2009)
Rays Top-30 ranks: 2 (2008), 6 (2009), 7 (2011), 9 (2013), 10 (2012), 15 (2010), 19 (2014)
League Top-20 ranks: 1 (2008 Appalachian League), 5 (2009 South Atlantic League), 10 (2012 International League)

Rays best tools: Best average hitter (2008), Best infield arm (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)

Beckham is the fourth No. 1 pick in franchise history. He’s actually not last in WAR, but as a prospect, he was behind the other three, as well as quite a few other players the organization has had.

It’s never good to peak in the prospect rankings immediately after being draft, but that’s what Beckham did. With the pedigree of a top pick and his tools — the ability to stay at shortstop and the promise of contact ability and power potential, plus a plate approach to take advantage of those tools — it wasn’t too difficult to look past a mediocre professional debut. A lot of players struggle in their pro debuts.

According to Baseball America, he was the No. 28 prospect in the league after that season. That placed him behind several players taken after him in the 2008 draft — Pedro Alvarez (No. 12, second pick), Eric Hosmer (No. 24, third pick), Brian Matusz (No. 25, fourth pick), Buster Posey (No. 14, fifth pick), Gordon Beckham (No. 20, eighth pick), and Justin Smoak (No. 23, 11th pick). Alvarez and Matusz were the only players ranked ahead of him in its rankings prior to the draft, so there was some immediate concern following those first two months of pro ball.

Beckham would be ranked as the No. 67 prospect after the 2009 season. While a No. 1 pick might be expected to stand out, he really didn’t in the South Atlantic League. He batted .275 with a .328 on-base percentage and .389 slugging percentage. His wOBA was .331 — perfectly adequate for a player who was likely going to stay at shortstop.

In BA’s report following that season, there was a phrase I think would follow Beckham his entire career — “solid if unspectacular.” In 2010, he had a .332 wOBA with Class A-Advanced Charlotte. The next season, it was .336 with Double-A Montgomery. In 2012, it was .313 with Triple-A Durham. In a return trip to Durham in 2013, it was .334. He was nothing if not consistent.

That’s what spurred hundreds, if not more, comments in debates here or at Rays Prospects over the years. Beckham was not bad — he was regularly near or above league-average stats while playing shortstop. He showed progress and moved up a level every season.

Not to relitigate those debates here, but to many, “solid if unspectacular” was not good enough for a No. 1 pick. For a No. 51 pick, “solid if unspectacular” may be beating expectations. For No. 1, maybe it wasn’t.

Despite the steady progress of advancing a level every season, Beckham dropped off the Top-100 list after two seasons and never returned. If he was hitting consistently and advancing to a new level every season, it would make sense that he’d stay in the ranking. The problem may have been with his defense.

Early scouting reports were optimistic about Beckham’s play at shortstop. Despite his highly regarded makeup and work ethic, after a couple full seasons as a professional, he seemed less athletic with a reduced chance to play at shortstop ($).

In 2011, he had his best season at the plate. His .736 OPS was a career high, and he slugged over .400 for the first time with a career-high 12 home runs between Montgomery and Durham. However, over the next couple seasons, he would suffer some setbacks.

A month into the 2012 season, Beckham was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a “drug of abuse” a second time, reportedly marijuana. He ended up having his worst professional season.

He rebounded in 2013, and he even earned his first major league cup of coffee. After the season, though, the 23 year old tore his ACL while working out. It caused him to miss the first half of the 2014 season when he could have been competing for a spot on the major league roster.

In 2015, Beckham returned to the majors for nearly the entire season, and that’s where he’s been ever since. For the next two seasons, he bounced around the infield in a utility role. In 438 plate appearances across the two seasons, he batted .234 with a .287 on-base percentage and 14 home runs.

The 2017 season is something I’m not sure anyone saw coming. Beckham ended up playing in 137 games and more than doubled his number of career plate appearances. For the first time as a major leaguer, he spent the large majority of his time in the field at shortstop.

However, a portion of that season did not come with the Rays. On July 31, the Rays made an unexpected trade, sending Beckham to the Orioles for pitching prospect Tobias Myers.

Beckham had been a contributor all season. At the time of the trade, the Rays were 54-52 and in the middle of the playoff race. Just over two weeks later, they found themselves 10 games behind the division-leading Red Sox and under .500.

Meanwhile, Beckham was thriving in Baltimore. Starting in his third game with the team, he hit a home run in three straight games. He had at least a hit in his first 12 games with a 1.488 OPS. He finished the season with career highs across the board offensively.

Beckham turns 28 years old later this month. He exited the organization in a controversial trade after beginning his professional career as a controversial draft pick among fans. It took quite a bit of time, but his power potential finally developed. He’s never going to be the superstar people hoped for with a No. 1 pick, but he has prime years of his life left, and he looks like a big league contributor.