By John Franco
I know I’m not the greatest living expert on the Pirates’ farm system, but I feel like I know the farm relatively well, and I’ve at least heard of all of the relevant players. So I was thrown for a loop when ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft tabbed someone named Ryan Beckman as the fantasy sleeper to own in the Pirates’ bullpen next season. If you asked me who Ryan Beckman was, I would have probably guessed he was a contestant on The Bachelor or maybe a Premier League soccer player, and here he is on a list with Johnny Venters and Sergio Romo.
I don’t know how well Cockroft knows the Pirates’ system or who he talked to, but if you asked me, I would have tabbed Evan Meek (the obvious choice), Chris Leroux (a bit deeper) or maybe even Jared Hughes (a deep sleeper who I love) as the possible replacement for Joel Hanrahan if the Pirates needed a new closer next year. So who is this Beckman guy, and where did he come from?
The Pirates drafted Beckman in the 18th round of the 2009 draft. He was a high school pitcher from Texas – apparently, he was home schooled but played baseball anyway - and the Pirates drafted him after 1 season at Grayson County Community College (the same school that produced John Lackey). He signed quickly enough to work 39.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League that season, striking out 19 hitters and walking just 8. In 2010 he worked as a reliever at State College (NY Penn League), posting a 21:16 K/BB rate in 42.1 innings.
This year, Beckman spent most of the season at Bradenton (Florida State League) where he has posted significantly better numbers: 52 innings, 46 strikeouts, 18 walks and just 44 hits allowed. He posted a great groundball rate in 2010 (2.67 GO/AO, which is ground ball outs over outs through the air) but regressed in 2011 (just 0.95 at Bradenton).
I can’t find any scouting reports on Beckman at all. He threw in the high 80s in high school, but he was also 6-foot-4 and I’m sure the Pirates saw a lot of projection in his frame. I like the improved K/BB rate, and if he can combine it with the groundball rate from 2010, I’ll like his prospects a lot more. If you’ve got any more input on Beckman, please leave it in the comments below. Otherwise, I’ll assume that Cockroft must have talked to a reliable source, but I’m not ready to pencil in Beckman for a spot on the 2012 Pirates, even as a mid-season call-up.