Rays choose HS prospect Beckham with No. 1 pick in draft

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With the clock on the large television monitor ticking down to zero and a cluster of fans chanting from the balcony, commissioner Bud Selig stepped to the podium and announced that the Tampa Bay Rays had selected high school shortstop Tim Beckham with the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft.

Oh, how times have changed.

The annual 50-round marathon that began Thursday is no longer strictly held by conference call. A portion of the first day was televised live for the second consecutive year from Disney World with about 400 boisterous fans and autograph seekers in house, along with some of baseball's biggest names, including Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Billy Williams and Dave Winfield.

"It's come a long way," said former major league pitcher Brian Anderson, recalling 15 years ago when he gathered with family and friends around a telephone in his Ohio apartment waiting for a call from the team drafting him.

"You didn't even know what time the draft started then. I found out the night before," the third overall pick in 1993 added. "This is awesome. This is great for the game."

Only one thing was missing -- prospects.

One, Aaron Hicks, a high school outfielder and alumnus of baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., attended with his family and went on stage to shake hands with Selig and pose for pictures after the Minnesota Twins made him the 14th pick.

Many in the crowd wore Rays T-shirts and cheered wildly when Selig announced the selection of Beckham, the talented high school shortstop from Griffin, Ga., that Tampa Bay picked over Florida State catcher Buster Posey.

Beckham was recognized as one of the best pure athletes in the draft and labeled a legitimate five-tool player. He established himself as the top prep prospect in the nation with solid performances at last summer's high school showcase events and hit .482 with six homers, 13 doubles, 41 RBIs and 23 stolen bases as a senior.

"I found out this morning. ... The scouting director gave me a call and the general manager gave me a call. It was crazy. I was about to do a back flip in my room," Beckham said.

"It means everything in the world. I've worked this hard the last three or four years, me and my brothers and my dad. This means all the hard work paid off. I hope to become an All-Star and after that I want to become a Hall of Famer."

With the second pick, the Pittsburgh Pirates chose sweet-swinging Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Florida high school first baseman Eric Hosmer went third to the Kansas City Royals, and the Baltimore Orioles took top college pitching prospect Brian Matusz out of San Diego with the fourth pick.

This is the second year in a row the Rays have had the No. 1 pick. David Price, a hard-throwing left-hander from Vanderbilt, was the choice in 2007 and is off to a great start with Class-A Vero Beach.

Beckham is the third high school shortstop taken No. 1 overall in the last five years, joining Justin Upton (Arizona, 2005) and Matt Bush (San Diego, 2004).

While there's always pressure to get the No. 1 pick right, the improving Rays imposed some extra heat on themselves this time because they're hoping it will be years before they'll be in a position to select first again.

Tampa Bay whittled its list of candidates for the top pick to five, then trimmed it to two -- Beckham and Posey, a converted shortstop who developed into one of college baseball's top offensive and defensive catchers over the past year.

"It was an active debate, but I think at the end of the day when push came to shove and we were racing time, I think it was pretty clear to everybody that Tim Beckham was the guy at the top of our board," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.

"We feel like he's got an advanced approach to the game, a genuine enthusiasm for what he does, and we feel like he's got a great chance to be an impact player in the major leagues."

The Rays called Posey a few hours before the draft to inform him that they were going to select Beckham. The Florida State star, hitting a Division I-leading .468 heading into this week's NCAA super regionals, wound up going to the San Francisco Giants with the fifth pick.

The Florida Marlins, picking sixth, took California high school catcher Kyle Skipworth, whom many consider the top prep prospect at his position since Joe Mauer was selected No. 1 overall by Minnesota seven years ago.

Rounding out the top 10, the Cincinnati Reds took Miami slugger Yonder Alonso seventh, the Chicago White Sox picked Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham (no relation to Tim) eighth, the Washington Nationals tabbed Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow and the Houston Astros selected Stanford catcher Jason Castro.

It's the fourth time Tampa Bay has had the No. 1 pick in the club's 11-season history. It picked outfielders Josh Hamilton in 1999 and Delmon Young in 2003.

The Rays think the 18-year-old Beckham is more advanced offensively than defensively at this point, but they're confident he has the athleticism, work ethic and attitude to become a complete player.

Second baseman Jemile Weeks, brother of Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks, was one of three University of Miami players selected in the opening round, going to the Oakland Athletics at No. 12.

While six first basemen were selected within the first 23 picks, only two pitchers -- Matusz and Crow -- were taken in the top 10. But seven pitchers were chosen during a 10-pick stretch from No. 19 to No. 28, where the New York Yankees went for California prep right-hander Gerrit Cole.

Two teams, Minnesota and the New York Mets, had two picks in the first round.

After taking Hicks at No. 14, the Twins selected Miami pitcher Carlos Gutierrez 27th. The Mets took Arizona State first baseman Ike Davis 18th and South Carolina shortstop Reese Havens 22nd.

Davis is the son of former big league pitcher Ron Davis. Daniel Schlereth, the University of Arizona pitcher selected 26th by the Diamondbacks, is the son of former Broncos offensive lineman and current ESPN football analyst Mark Schlereth.

In the sixth round, the Chicago White Sox selected Wichita State center fielder Kenny Williams Jr., son of the team's general manager.