SARASOTA, Fla. - Tim Beckham took his cuts in the batting cage yesterday afternoon beneath another gorgeous blue sky and headed to the Camden Yards replica field. He walked with Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, the trio shadowed by third base coach Bobby Dickerson.
Dickerson, who also serves as infield instructor, kept hitting grounders to Beckham at third and Machado at shortstop. It ranks as some of the most important and closely scrutinized tasks in camp.
Balls hit to Beckham’s left and backhand and directly in front of him were fielded cleanly and tossed to the side. I noticed only one bobble during an extended period of activity. I also noticed the smile on his face.
The attitude and willingness to embrace the move off shortstop haven’t been an issue.
Beckham has made only nine appearances at third base, including five starts, but he’s been trusted with a position that Machado mastered - if you count two Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove.
“It’s been going smooth,” said Beckham, who reported early to begin his sessions with Dickerson. “Just working on the transition over to third and just getting reps over there. Getting as many repetitions as I can before the actual camp starts, not being too familiar with the position.
“I don’t want to go out there first day of camp and look like I never know where I’ve been. I wanted to get down early and get some work in with Bobby Dickerson and attack this spring.”
Countless hours of preparation and sweat can do only so much for Beckham. He’ll still need to adjust on the fly - even if the ball’s on the ground.
“I’ve just been doing drills right now and working on our footwork over at third,” he said. “Whatever’s going to surprise me, I think, is going to happen in a game, and being able to make those in-game plays and in-game adjustments and just taking those in-game angles to the ground balls. Hard ground balls and the slow ground balls.
“Just making the in-game adjustments as far as when the game starts, I feel like that’s when that will take place.”
The Rays made Beckham the first overall pick in 2008 and envisioned him as their shortstop for the long term. He was given 163 starts, but also 55 at second and five at first base. He never stuck at the spot he most coveted, his final chance coming to start the 2017 season.
The move to third is accompanied by the theory that anyone capable of playing shortstop can handle the other positions.
“I feel like I’d be OK,” he said. “If your question is do I think I’ll be comfortable at third base, yes, I will be comfortable at third base. And that’s why I came down early to put in the work, and so I am comfortable at third base. But as far as playing every position, catcher, count me out on that one.”
So much for Beckham replacing Ryan Flaherty as the emergency backstop.
“The catchers have my upmost respect,” he said, another smile creasing his face. “To go out and do what they do day in and day out is impressive, you know? I don’t think I would ever want to be a catcher.”
The Orioles want Beckham to be their everyday third baseman, knowing that he won’t play at Machado’s level and never putting that kind of pressure upon him. Machado is available to provide instruction and encouragement.
“I spoke to him a couple times,” Beckham said. “Not really about playing the third base position. But yeah, of course. When you’ve got a guy who played third base at the level he played at, of course I’ll pick his brain and talk to him about his position. Just ready to get it going.”
His experience at third with the Rays had limited benefits. A toe stuck in the water. Not the plunge that’s coming to Baltimore.
“It was comfortable,” he said. “Just getting out there and learning the bunt plays and everything like that, that’s what I have to get used to. I didn’t do any bunt plus or PFPs or anything like that. I’m just ready to get it going.
“So far, it’s been a couple adjustments. Just making those adjustments and getting used to making them on a consistent basis. Shortstop is kind of, you’ve got a lot more time and you want to go get everything. But third base you kind of just chill and play your position.”
The first exhibition game is Friday afternoon against the Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. May as well break out the new third baseman against his old team.
“I’m definitely excited to get it going,” he said. “I think people have got a lot to look forward to. Whoever is doubting me at third base, I think they’ve got a lot to look forward to. I’m ready to get out there and play some ball.”