Name: Austin Beck
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 200
Acquired: Selected in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
For the second straight year, the Oakland A’s selected sixth in the MLB Draft. After going with a college pitcher in 2016, the A’s took a high school outfielder in 2017. Austin Beck experienced some growing pains in his pro debut but flashed immense promise along the way. Will he take another big step forward in 2018?
Beck had an eventful run-up to the MLB Draft. The North Davidson HS product injured his knee at the end of his junior year baseball season. The injury forced Beck to miss the summer showcase circuit going into his senior season, which lowered his profile at the start of the spring. It didn’t take long for Beck to draw attention, however. He had a huge senior year and scouts flocked to see him in games and hitting batting practice.
Although the A’s don’t typically go for raw, high-upside talent in the first round of the draft, Oakland jumped at the opportunity to take Beck sixth overall last season. Beck’s signing scout, Neil Avent, has been scouting players in North Carolina region for more than a decade. He rated Beck’s talent on a similar plane to some of the top high school players to ever suit up in North Carolina.
“I think with the types of things that he can do and the collective toolset, Austin has a lot of that Josh Hamilton type, as good as what I saw from him,” Avent said in an interview not long after the draft. “Josh had power, he could really run and he could throw. Whenever we grade out the bat, that’s the hardest thing for us to determine is whether they are going to hit. You can see the power. That’s easy. But Hamilton could run, he could throw, he had power and the ball sounded different coming off of his bat. A lot of that is very similar with Beck. What you see in terms of measurable tools, he compares favorably. He’s as talented in that category as what Josh was.”
Because Beck hadn’t played in the showcase circuit while he was recovering from the knee injury and because he came from a smaller metropolitan area, there were some questions about how Beck would fare against more advanced competition when he turned pro. The A’s knew that Beck would face a significant learning curve at the pro level, but they were willing to be patient with his development.
Beck’s inexperience against advanced competition was particularly evident at the start of his pro debut. He hit only .164/.218/.219 during the first half of the Arizona Rookie League season. However, as he gained more experience with professional pitching, his timing at the plate improved significantly. During the second half of the AZL season, Beck hit .253/.354/.468. He walked 14 times in 22 games and had 10 extra-base hits.
Beck continued to show improvement in the fall during the A’s Instructional League.
“He’s seeing things now through the AZL and the Instructional League that he’s not really seen a lot of. Maybe occasionally,” A’s minor league hitting coordinator Jim Eppard said in an Instructs interview. “He’s definitely getting better. He’s starting to understand himself, understand his swing and understand what it is going to take to compete against those big arms and very advanced breaking balls and change-ups.”
A’s minor league hitting coach Eric Martins had Beck in his Instructs hitting group. Martins says Beck has all of the tools to be a star, but that he is still finding his rhythm at the plate.
“Beck is another kid who oozes with tools. Explosive hands, explosive bat speed, raw power. He has the ability to use the field and drive the baseball to all parts of the field,” Martins said in a post-Instructs interview. “The only thing I focused on with him was calming his hands down. He kind of had Gary Sheffield active hands and sometimes he’d get caught in-between and would be thrown off. The only thing I really talked with him about was trying to calm those down a little bit. Still wanted him to have movement but wanted him to be able to be on time every single time.”
Beck is a true five-tool prospect. He has above-average power, above-average speed, a strong glove in centerfield and a well above-average throwing arm. Beck also has the quick wrists and strong hands necessary to control the bat, so he has a chance to hit for average, although he will have to improve his contact rate. Early on his pro debut, Beck wasn’t particularly selective at the plate, but as the season wore on, he became more willing to wait for his pitch and take a walk when he was being pitched around. As he develops, he has a chance to have at least average plate discipline.
Eppard thinks it is only a matter of time before it all clicks for Beck – and the wait might not be that long.
“If you aren’t used to the big velo and the sharp breaking pitches, it’s all pretty daunting,” Eppard said. “But the more that you see it, the more that your mind and your eyes start to slow the ball down. Then you start to feel more comfortable and more confident. That’s when you start to really advance your game. It takes time. Sometimes – and it could very well be the case with a guy like Austin – that it will take some time, but it’s not going to take that much time.”
Depending on how Beck looks during spring training, the A’s could send him to Low-A Beloit or hold him back and have him spend the first half of the season at extended spring training before joining short-season Vermont. He will be 19 throughout the 2018 season.
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