Back before the Rays were the Rays, the Rays were the Orioles. That is, before the Rays were a successful, well-run contender, they were barely a speed bump for the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East. Before their pennant-winning season in 2008, the best season in Rays history was 2004, when Victor Zambrano led the team to 91 losses. They used to be bad.
But if there's a good thing about a baseball team being that inept, it's the high draft choices that go along with it. The 2007 Rays lost more games than any other team in baseball. That's bad. But they got their choice of any amateur player in North America in the 2008 draft. That's good! They chose Tim Beckham, who had a depressingly slow start to his professional career. That was bad.
Then Beckham looked like he was turning things around at the plate. From Baseball America last winter:
"While he must continue to refine his approach, he didn't give away as many at-bats and showed hints of plus power potential. He also displayed more mental and physical maturity and looked more confident."
That's good! But Beckham was just suspended on Tuesday for 50 games after failing test for a "drug of abuse."
That's bad. No word on if the drug contained traces of potassium benzoate.
It's common knowledge that pitchers have arms and shoulders filled with shrapnel and springs, and that as prospects, they aren't to be trusted. Here, then, is an example of why all prospects aren't to be trusted. Beckham was a universally adored prospect by scouts across the land. He could have used extra tools to build shelter for the tools he already had. He was in a good organization that would start spitting out prospects soon. There were all sorts of reasons to think he'd succeed.
And then it so happened that Beckham had troubles hitting a round ball with a cylindrical bat -- he was only one of the 10,000 best in the world at it, not one of the 250 best. And now he has to deal with a drug suspension that will cost him valuable development time.
The Rays could have had in-state hero Buster Posey. They could have had Eric Hosmer. Heck, even Pedro Alvarez and Brian Matusz would have given them more hope, especially after getting all smarted up in the Rays' system. Instead, they went with Beckham. And that's looking like a dud of a pick right now.
But just as it's foolish to expect every prospect to pan out, it's foolish to write them off too early. Beckham is still just 22, and he's been on the younger side of every league he's played in. Baseball is littered with late-bloomers who figured things out in their mid- or late-20s.
It doesn't look good for Beckham right now, though. His road to the majors was clear. If he hit, he was up. But now it's a little more complicated than that, and he isn't going to get another chance to hit for almost two months.