SARASOTA, Fla. - Tim Beckham didn’t have a ball hit to him yesterday during the intrasquad game, leaving his work at third base on the back fields as the only way to assign an early grade.
Beckham is starting at third base again today in the Orioles’ exhibition opener against the Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. He’s taking a break from his daily sessions with infield instructor Bobby Dickerson, who’s overseeing the switch of Beckham from shortstop to third base while Manny Machado returns to his original position.
“More than anything this early in camp, I really want to make sure we’re focused on getting responsibilities of all the team fundamentals - bunt defense, cutoff, relay-type stuff, shift defense, how we’re going to use everybody,” Dickerson said. “Those type things are what, early in camp, we’re focused on.”
Beckham has made only five starts at third base, which presents its own challenges. There are plenty at the hot corner.
“If you think of bat angle contact, the ball is going to be caught more upfront from a right-hand hitter and kind of hooked at him, a lot of top-spun balls and balls that are kind of rolled over. He’s got to be able to see that,” Dickerson said.
“That first hop is real big. If it’s high and it’s more of a chopped ball, he’s got to come see it and come get it and make it a short hop, and if it’s hammered at him pretty good, which is a quicker position, he’s got to really learn that first move to give space and try to create longer hops. It’s tough to do that when you’ve been at shortstop your whole life. You want to just come and get everything. Your angles get shorter and you find yourself a lot of times at third base, if you create shorter angles, the ball is up under you and it’s kind of by you as you’re trying to get in your position.
“That’s probably the biggest thing for him as far as learning, catch the ball, but the other challenge is the position, what comes along with the responsibilities. Bunt plays, which one can the pitcher get? Which one do I got to get? Those type things. And that’s going to be a challenge for him, too.”
Beckham’s athleticism and enthusiasm could ease the transition, a hope shared by the organization.
“Beck is kind of opposite of Manny,” Dickerson said. “Beck’s high strung, man. He plays the game real energetic. You can just see him. He’s fired up, he wants to do it. He’s going to make it happen. Manny’s more laid back, lets the game come to him a little bit. That’s one difference in them.
“Beck, I always said if you give me a guy that has some work ethic, some aptitude, then you know what? We can get it done. And Beck has both. He works his tail off, he has some aptitude, so that’s the thing. Can we go forward every day? It’s like building a house. Can we go forward or do we have to keep going backward?
“He’s been great so far early in camp. Like I told him, we’ve got six weeks to really cram a lot of things in and so far it’s really going good.”
Machado is a natural shortstop. He’s literally and figuratively in a different position than Beckham.
“Manny, he’s played there the last few years anyway and in the shift he’s always there, so Manny’s in a different situation than where Beck is, who hasn’t had many reps at third base at all,” Dickerson said.
“Manny’s been a shortstop, he was a shortstop. Still, though, shortstop is a more taxing mental position. You can’t take a pitch off and that’s one of the things we have to stay with Manny on. You can’t take any pitches off, no matter how the bat is going. We’ve seen that in our past here with J.J. (Hardy). He was a quarterback on the field. Manny and I had that discussion. You have to be in every pitch at shortstop. It’s a demanding position.”
The original lineup today before second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s removal was filled with projected starters, Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander being the only exception in right field. It’s too early for Colby Rasmus after signing a minor league deal on Wednesday.
“I feel very good,” Santander said. “Thankful for the opportunity. And I just want to go out there and give my best.”
Santander must exhibit the necessary defensive skills to become an option in the outfield during the regular season. Otherwise, he’s going to sit on the bench unless Mark Trumbo is removed from the designated hitter slot. And he’s more likely to head to the minors after the first 44 days of the season, when his Rule 5 status is removed.
“Defense is very important,” he said. “I’m concentrating on working on all aspects - offense, defense, running the bases well and show the team that I can help in many different phases of the game.”
Dylan Bundy opposes the Phillies’ Zach Eflon in Saturday afternoon’s split-squad game in Clearwater. Rule 5 left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. opposes Twins left-hander Adablerto Mejia in the night game at Ed Smith Stadium.