After adjustments, A's Beck focused on power

March 14th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Professional baseball has required a series of adjustments from Austin Beck.

The No. 6 overall pick in the 2017 Draft by the Athletics, Beck earned a $5,303,000 bonus on the basis of his five-tool promise. But he had a rude introduction to pro pitching that summer, going 9-for-65 (.138) with 23 strikeouts in his first 17 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He quickly learned that he would need to settle down his approach.

"I came from high school and I had more of a higher leg kick and a bat tilt," said Beck, a product of North Davidson High in Lexington, N.C. "I was able to get away with it in high school where the pitching was more 84-85 [mph] and not 94-95. So I kind of just calmed my hands down and my leg kick down, and that seemed to help by the end of my rookie year."

Beck salvaged his debut by batting .264/.356/.471 in his final 24 games, though his final line for 2018 was a mere .211/.293/.349. After continuing to work on quieting his approach in instructional league, he felt confident heading into his first full season in 2018.

Once again, he was confronted with a harsh reality. The low Class A Midwest League may be the most difficult circuit to hit in the entire Minor Leagues, and being a 19-year-old who likes to swing at everything didn't help his cause. A month-long slump in July dropped his season line to .280/.322/.360.

While Beck wasn't striking out excessively, he was putting too many pitches in play that he would have been better off avoiding. He started to realize that making contact didn't matter if it was weak contact, and he began trying to wait for pitches he could punish. He produced at a .341/.372/.450 clip in the final month, enabling him to lead the MWL with 146 hits and finish sixth in the batting race at .296.

"In high school, you have metal bats, so if you hit it, you hit it and it would go," Beck said. "At the beginning of the year last year, my plate discipline wasn't where I wanted it to be. I was chasing a few pitches I shouldn't have been chasing."

Beck admits he still has work to do with his patience and strike-zone management after fanning 117 times and drawing just 30 walks in low Class A. He did slice his strikeout rate to 22 percent, down from 29 percent in his debut.

Next on Beck's agenda: hitting for more power after slugging .375 with just four homers in his first 164 games. He has well above-average bat speed that should translate into power to all fields, though he has somewhat flattened his right-handed stroke early in his pro career while focusing on making contact.

Beck spent this offseason working on adding some loft, driving the ball from gap to gap and trying not to roll his hands over too early. He ventured to Nashville twice to work with reigning American League MVP Mookie Betts.

"I'm just focused on launching balls in gaps and hitting more home runs and doubles," Beck said. "I didn't always swing like I swung last year. I had more of an uppercut in high school just because I was able to do it with high school pitching.

"But it's maybe just a little adjustment. It's not even a big adjustment in bat path and bat angle. It's tough at first but once you get the hang of it, it's fine."

Oakland farm director Keith Lieppman said Beck's power should come naturally as he develops more patience.

"He wants to hit for power so much right now," Lieppman said. "The goal is to just be more selective and have a good plan. Power usually comes in Double-A and Triple-A. We tell him that's what happened with Jason Giambi and Eric Chavez.

"Austin has one of the higher bat speeds in the organization. It’s just a process for him to get better pitches to hit."

Beck has other areas for possible improvement in 2019. He wants to do a better job of using his plus speed on the bases and could get exposure to the outfield corners after spending all of his first two seasons in center field. If the A's send all three of their best outfield prospects to high Class A Stockton, the best defensive alignment might be Lazaro Armenteros in left, Jameson Hannah in center and Beck in right.