Yesterday I showed one organization’s opinion of Brandon Phillips over the course of his career. He started out as a shortstop in the low levels before his fringy range caught up to him necessitating a shift over to second base. The flaws were clear, but there were postives, as well. The guy lacked all semblance of discipline at the plate, but his plus bat speed made up for some of that allowing him to spray the ball all over and show surprising pop most years.
It took many years and his third organization before Phillips really took off as a 25 year old in Cincinnati. After years of people picking apart the things he couldn’t do he was able to show that a plus glove and an ability to hit around league average with some pop could turn into a 3-4 win player perennially. In fact, after his one and a half WAR season at 25 he put up another 19 wins over what would have been the rest of his team control years. A late bloomer, sure, but one that became a key cog at an important position.
I mention all of this because Tim Beckham is about to embark on his own age-25 season as a former shortstop that wasn’t able to stay on the position. Both players were drafted as toolsy athletes out of high schools that were a little more than an hour apart in non-Atlanta, Georgia. While Phillips was less heralded after being taken in the second round, Beckham ended up in a similar bucket after failing to take the world by storm as a first overall pick. Beckham has shown a bit more patience at the plate, but like Phillips he has mostly kind of hung around AAA as a guy that doesn’t look to be much more than league average as a hitter.
Most folks probably don’t have to squint too hard to see Tim Beckham as a plus defender at 2B. It was never that he was a bad shortstop he just wasn’t all that good, either, and that sounds an awful lot like how Brandon Phillips ended up where he did. If we can agree on that then let’s move on to the stick. They’re not completely similar hitters. Phillips struck out quite a bit less (14% v. 22%) at AAA while walking slightly less (7.1% to 7.4%). Beckham has shown a bit less power at AAA (.115 ISO vs. .141 for Phillips), but their average and OBP are nearly identical at .268/.329 for Phillips and .266/.326 for Beckham.
So Phillips is a bit more of a hacker with the slightly better power profile that allows you to live with that approach, but Beckham has been better on the bases. While their AAA numbers extrapolate out to 13.8 SB per 600 PA for Brandon Phillips we see that Tim Beckham sits around 14.7 successful swipes per 600 PA. When you factor in that Beckham has done that with a success rate of around 71% while Phillips got his at an abysmal success rate of 63% it’s not a stretch to think that Beckham is sure to provide more value swiping bags and probably grabbing the extra one on balls in play.
Most folks have written Tim Beckham off as nothing more than a utility prospect due to his failure to impress at really any level, but while focusing on the lack of a breakout it’s easy to miss that he has pretty consistently hit around league average on his climb up the ladder. It’s difficult to think that folks don’t punish him a bit for being taken first overall. Putting your own expectations on others is one of the surest ways to be disappointed. Brandon Phillips gives a fine example of a player with a similar skillset, background, and development that not only defied the low bar placed upon him, but became a borderline All-Star for many seasons. Beckham may profile as a guy that doesn’t quite have that same level of power, but he’s not far off and he most likely has the edge in speed. I’d label both as plus defenders at second base with good range, arm, hands, and feet.
Phillips didn’t immediately impress even in his age-25 season in the Show, but in a down year for the Reds he was able to take his lumps that allowed him to become basically a league average hitter. It’s not sexy, but being a league average hitter and a plus glove while staying healthy at second base can lead to a guy becoming a 3-4 win player, perennially, and when you’re getting that for the league minimum, well, you’ve got yourself an incredible value.