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The full package, top prospect Beckham ready to make leap

Tim Beckham signed his first autograph as a 12-year old at Dreams Park in Cooperstown, N.Y. The significance is not lost on him.

"I don't just want to be an average player," he says. "I want to be a Hall of Famer."

Brash words from an 18 year old, but as a player who may be drafted somewhere in the top five in Thursday's Major League Baseball draft and possibly No. 1, the future can seem limitless.

Beckham is a five-tool shortstop who excelled on the high school all-star circuit the past two summers, wowing scouts with his athleticism in the field and on the basepaths. At 6-foot, 190 pounds, Beckham is physically mature, and most scouts feel he will be able remain a shortstop at the major-league level. Baseball America rates Beckham as the top high school prospect in the country.

"He's got soft hands at the plate and in the field," says Griffin (Ga.) coach Jamie Cassady, who has been at the school for 16 years. "Tim is the best player we've had and it is not even close. Tim is the whole package."

Scouts and baseball front office personnel have descended on this blue-collar town 20 miles south of Atlanta for the past three months. Cassady said there has not been a day -- practice or game -- that was not attended by someone who wanted to watch Beckham work out. Every day, Beckham says, feels like a tryout.

"There really hasn't been a time where he could relax, but he has taken it well," Cassady says.

During a recent double-header in the state tournament, Beckham demonstrated everything scouts have come to love. He showed off his arm on a relay from the outfield to home, turned a double-play, fielded a ground ball behind second to nail a runner, stole bases, crushed a triple and reached base six times in nine plate appearances.

Beckham led Griffin to the state championship series for the first time since 1981 after batting .482 with a .570 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot. Griffin was swept 2-0 in the best-of-three final, but Beckham banged out five hits and reached base all but once during the two games.

"He picked it up a notch," Cassady says. "The great ones usually do in the big games."

With all the attention and hype Beckham has received since emerging as a top-flight prospect two summers ago, it is easy to forget he's still three years away from being able to buy his first beer. One minute he's talking about agents, contracts and minor-league ball, the next he's thumbing through his yearbook and looking at his girlfriend's note.

"She wrote a whole page," he says. "I don't know if I can read all that."

Though his signing bonus is expected to fall in the $4-6 million range, Beckham still giggles when he says he leaves his high school's campus (against the rules) every once in a while for lunch, and regularly checks his Facebook page, which currently boasts 568 friends. Clubs throw the term makeup around, referring to a player's character, and Beckham's more than checks out.

"I think he is [ready] because I think he expected he would be [a high draft pick]," says Jimmy Beckham, Tim's father. "It didn't take him long to realize, he wasn't just better than the next guy, he was a lot better than the next guy."

Pamela Howard teaches Beckham in honors economics, and she's noticed a maturity that will help Beckham as he deals with the pressure of celebrity and money at a young age. One day, she asked him why he wasn't wearing one of his favorite necklaces, and Tim told her a young fan said he liked it, so Tim gave it to him.

"He comes from a good family and you can see that in his character," Howard says. "I just want him to stay focused and not let the money control him, and I don't think he will."

In addition to his talent, Beckham has succeeded in large part because of a work ethic that had him at the baseball field for more than four hours a day in the offseason the last two years, running hills, hitting off a tee or working on his footwork. Beckham said he would try to get teammates to join him, but after a day of working until 8 p.m., they found other things to do.

One person that can keep up with Beckham's workouts is the person who is most responsible for Beckham fulfilling his baseball talent. His older brother, Jeremy, kept prodding Tim to stick with baseball when Tim gave up the sport on an organized level for three years as a youth -- despite wowing the umpires at a 12-year-old national tournament in Cooperstown to the point where they wanted his autograph. Tim was interested in basketball and football, but after enough trips to the park to watch his older brothers play, he formally jumped back into the sport for good as an eighth-grader.

Beckham played basketball for Griffin High as a freshman and sophomore before making the difficult decision to focus strictly on baseball. In fact, because basketball season ran late, Beckham played his first game as a sophomore without going to one team practice or taking one session of batting practice. He homered in his first at-bat.

"It was a cold day, and no one could really hit," says Tim's brother, Stephen, who is two years older than Tim and played baseball for four years at Griffin. "We were all like, 'Man!'"

From then on, it was all baseball, all the time. Jeremy, a senior second baseman at Georgia Southern who will likely be a second-day draft pick this year, would drive Tim down to the Griffin fields for hours during the offseason and hit, field and run.

"[Jeremy] has been a great inspiration in my life," Tim says.

Summers were spent playing nearly every day, either in national all-star games or for the Atlanta Blue Jays, an elite World Wood Bat Association travel squad. The buzz among scouts started during the summer after his sophomore year, and it has reached a crescendo heading into the draft. He has signed a letter-of-intent with USC, but there is very little chance that Beckham will go to college, especially if he is the top pick.

"It would be great [to be picked first] since I've worked this hard to be the No. 1 pick and be the No. 1 player in the country," Beckham says. "But it is not that big of a deal if they pick somebody else. I'm still going to work the same and keep my same approach."

Beckham will spend draft day with friends, family and teammates at the GTO Events Center in Griffin. Projections range from No. 1 to No. 5, and once he gets drafted, he's says he's going to be ready to go.

"All I'm going to be thinking about is when I'm going to sign and when I'm going to start playing," he says. "I'm ready to get started."

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