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Rays' Beckham getting closer to major leagues

Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:29 PM

The news Tim Beckham expected to eventually hear this month came Sunday afternoon when he was reassigned to minor league camp.

The shortstop prospect packed his things for the short walk to the other side of the Tampa Bay Rays spring training complex knowing he is closer to the major league level than at any point since he was drafted first overall by the club in 2008.

"I feel close everywhere," he said.

And everywhere includes second base, the extra line he added to his resume this spring that could hasten his arrival at Tropicana Field.

"The big thing about doing that is to potentially, hopefully get here a little bit sooner, if that were the case and we need a second baseman and we like him at second base," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

It's a move the Rays used with a number of their top shortstop prospects, beginning with B.J. Upton in 2004. Ben Zobrist was a shortstop prospect with the Astros and Devil Rays before becoming an all-star utility fielder. Reid Brignac was able to spend the 2010 season at the big league level because he embraced a move to second base.

"Any opportunity to make the team was what I was looking forward to, no matter where it was on the field," Brignac said. "We play this game to play in the big leagues not to play at Triple A. If I got to play second, if I got to play right field, third base, I'll play."

It can be a little unnerving when a prospect hears talk of a position change. Upton, when told in 2004 that he was being moved from shortstop to third base, didn't exactly greet the news with open arms.

"I think then I wasn't happy about it," Upton said, "but now looking back at it I probably would say this was a way to get to the major leagues faster."

Upton moved from third base to second base to center field, with the final two moves coming at the major league level. He has been a part of three playoff teams and will make $7 million this season.

"It worked out," Upton said recently through a grin.

Beckham said he is OK with the move because he wants to do what's best for the organization. Also, with Sean Rodriguez in the mix at the major league level and Hak-Ju Lee coming up behind Beckham in the system, the Rays have enough shortstops.

They also have more than enough second basemen, but having the ability to play second base will give Beckham and the Rays more options down the road.

"I've always felt the more positions you can play, the more valuable you are to the team, especially on this team," Brignac said.

It wasn't long after the Rays acquired Jason Bartlett in a November 2007 trade when Zobrist received a phone call from manager Joe Maddon telling him to bring a lot of gloves to spring training.

"I knew I wasn't the best shortstop out there," Zobrist said. "It didn't offend me that they didn't want me to play shortstop."

Zobrist found himself playing second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield positions for the 2008 American League champions. He played seven positions the next season and was named to the American League All-Star team.

"To me, it was like, if I get a chance to play, I'm happy. If I'm in the lineup, great, however it is because I just want to play," Zobrist said. "All I wanted was the at-bats at the major league level."

Maddon said it's not unusual for a player to balk at the suggestion since a position change often comes out of the blue. The key to gaining their trust, Maddon said, is to be honest.

"This is exactly what we're thinking. This is why we're doing it. You are a very good shortstop. We love you at shortstop, but we want to give you this position, too, just in case things change," Maddon said. "So you really try to be open and honest,"

Upton said he wasn't surprised when he was moved to third base since he had played shortstop for the Devil Rays and knew he wasn't going to return to the big league level at that position.

"I knew it was a matter of time," he said. "I wasn't getting better defensively."

After the initial shock wore off, Upton realized the move would be the best thing for his career.

"You don't really know how to handle it at first. When you come up through the system at one position and then they want you to move to a new position it can definitely take its toll on you," he said. "I didn't have a problem with it after a while. I had been up and down and they had a spot open and I just wanted to be in the big leagues."

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227