When the White Sox selected James Beard in the 4th round (110th overall) of the 2019 MLB Draft, the initial information shared about him was in regards to his elite speed. Elite to the point where he was rated as the fastest player in all of the 2019 draft class. Aside from that, there wasn't a ton of information available on the 18-year-old outfielder from Loyd Star High School in Brookhaven, Mississippi. He drew a lot of comparisons to Billy Hamilton coming out of the draft, which seems fair when you look at the speed of both players. Despite the struggles so far, Beard is showing signs of the potential to be known for being more than just a speedster. He still has a long way to go, but after seeing Beard in person many times this season, I've walked away feeling impressed with what he brings to the table.
In his first year as a pro, James Beard has spent all of the 2019 season with the Arizona League White Sox. This is no surprise as prep prospects often spend a lot of time in rookie ball during their first professional season. Beard has spent time as the lead-off hitter and the nine hitter for the AZL affiliate, and he has only played center field defensively. In 17 games with the AZL White Sox, Beard is slashing .197/.284/.273 with two doubles, one home run, seven RBI, six walks, 30 strikeouts, four stolen bases, and has a wRC+ of 56. Those numbers are all below average, but Beard does a lot of things that don't show up on the box score.
30 strikeouts in just 17 games is a lot for any player, but one thing to keep in mind with James Beard is that he's going up against the toughest competition he's had to face so far in his young career. Coming out of Loyd Star, scouts noted that they feared he would take time to adjust to pro ball due to the fact that Mississippi prep baseball isn't flooded with top talent like some of the other states are. And that's not a knock on the overall product that Mississippi puts out each year, it's just that there aren't as many top prep players like some of the other southern states produce.
Even with James Beard taking some time to adjust to professional baseball and the talent he's going up against, he's showing signs of a mature plate approach for just an 18-year-old prospect. At the plate, it's not too often where you will see Beard attack early and jump on one of the first pitches he sees. He consistently works on seeing a lot of pitches each time he steps into the batter's box and makes the opposing pitchers work to get him out. He gets thrown a lot of off-speed and breaking balls in the dirt, and you will rarely see him chase after junk.
The main issue I'm seeing with Beard and his strikeouts so far involve his timing at the plate. When he strikeouts, it's primarily been a swinging strikeout and more often than not he's coming up empty on a fastball. That's something that will change over time as he gets more comfortable at the plate and gains more confidence in his offensive abilities. When looking at his overall approach, I see a player that's going to start piling up a lot of hits in the near future. Once he gets his timing down, I believe he can be an impact bat at the top of the lineup and will be able to continue that role as he moves on to higher affiliate ball.
When he does put the ball in play, he's a very tough out regardless of where it ends up due to his incredible speed. He's the type of player that hustles out of the box and makes the defense stay on their toes at all times. As a result, James Beard currently has a .343 BABIP, making even a routine play more difficult for the opposing team. He doesn't get lazy on the base paths and truly uses his gifted speed to his advantage. He's also shown the ability to drive the ball as well. He doesn't have a ton of power right now, but he does have strong hands and a balanced swing that help produce line drives. His ability to make hard contact isn't consistent yet, but it will be when he gets his timing down eventually.
— Sean Williams (@Sean_W10) July 16, 2019
When you have speed like Beard, that obviously means you have a great opportunity to be a threat on the base paths. However, not everyone can put it all together and use their speed to the best of their ability. James Beard does this regularly and is smart on the base paths too. He always knows the situation and hasn't made many mistakes when he reaches base. In the clip below, you will see Beard show his aggressive side and take third base on a grounder hit to the third baseman. Beard realizes that the defender was pulled far from the bag and decided to bring himself closer to home after the throw. This takes a lot of instincts and guts as you have to make sure the third baseman actually makes the throw before deciding to run. Not to mention, this is an awful out if you are unsuccessful on the attempt. There are not many players that can be successful on this type of play, however, James Beard is one of the few that can be.
Jose Rodriguez grounds out here. James Beard decided he wanted to take third base on the throw. pic.twitter.com/bZScQyk9rk
— Sean Williams (@Sean_W10) June 26, 2019
Having this type of speed is great, but Beard still has things he has to work on before he becomes more of a complete player. He has four stolen bases this season, but he's also been caught stealing three times. Him being gunned down has mainly been a result of poorly timed jumps from first base. He's made every steal attempt a close play at the minimum, but his timing has been off as well. Once he can get better jumps more consistently, the stolen base numbers are going to skyrocket and James Beard will have a very good chance to create more runs for his team. Defensively, he doesn't utilize his speed as much as he can. There have been a few 50-50 balls that he let drop in front of him for a hit. He's not as aggressive in the field, but he still has the ability to close gaps that most players would not be able to. He has done a good job of getting reads off the bat so far, which can be a very tough task in the brutal Arizona sun.
As of now, his arm is average at best in the field. As he develops and is regularly on a professional strength program, his arm will become much stronger arm and he will begin to add more power into his offensive game. He has the potential to become an elite defender and a solid two-way player, but it's going to take him some time to figure things out. There's a common theme with some of his areas of struggle and that is his timing. Once he gets his timing down at the plate and on the base paths, he's going to be a very exciting prospect for all White Sox fans to follow. While his professional career hasn't gotten off to the best start, there's still a lot to like about James Beard's overall profile and the things he does that don't show up on the box score each night.