Baseball

UNC recruit Austin Beck couldn’t walk. Now he’s the 6th pick in the MLB draft

The Oakland A’s are taking a chance on North Davidson’s Austin Beck, left, picking him No. 6 overall in the 2017 MLB draft a year after knee surgery.
The Oakland A’s are taking a chance on North Davidson’s Austin Beck, left, picking him No. 6 overall in the 2017 MLB draft a year after knee surgery. Winston-Salem Journal

A year ago, Austin Beck couldn’t walk.

The North Davidson High star outfielder was a month removed from surgery on his left meniscus, which he tore trying to plant for a throw. His left ACL was torn, too, putting him on a six-to-eight-month timetable for his recovery.

He came back in five. Now, 13 months removed from the operating table, Beck is drawing comparisons to two-time MVP Mike Trout.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But the Oakland Athletics are taking their chances, drafting Beck No. 6 overall in the 2017 MLB draft on Monday.

“He has those kinds of skills …” said North Davidson coach Matthew Griffin. “Very few people have all five tools.”

If you always have it in the back of your mind, you’re never going to be confident enough to play your game.

Austin Beck on playing baseball after knee surgery

The 5-foot-11-inch outfielder checks every box, grading as a plus prospect in all five areas of his game. But he didn’t know what his draft stock would be after hyperextending his knee on a routine throw in 2016. Griffin didn’t foresee a first-round future. Without the ability to compete against top-level summer competition, Beck’s ceiling seemed limited.

But he went to work, anyway. He said he rehabbed two or three hours per day to strengthen his left knee. With his lower body hampered, he added strength to his upper body. At night, when the rehab was “over,” he’d do exercises on his own. He had one year left, and he wasn’t about to waste it.

When Beck first came back from the injury, Griffin said the outfielder hit with a wooden bat during the offseason – and the results were better than ever. He was smarter at the plate and more patient with opposing pitches, and the extra muscle sent balls flying over the outfield wall.

As impressive as Austin Beck’s stats were, his power in the Oakland Coliseum likely secured his draft slot. ... He left an impression, to say the least.

When he returned to the field, Beck planted to throw the same as he always had. He wasn’t worried about the past; only the future.

“You can’t be scared …” he said. “If you always have it in the back of your mind, you’re never going to be confident enough to play your game.”

His confidence returned. So did his game.

Beck hit 12 home runs in his last year at North Davidson, including three in his final game. He tallied all four of his team’s runs in a 5-4 loss to T.C Roberson in the state championships, adding a highlight play from the outfield for good measure.

He finished the year batting .590 with a .700 on-base percentage. Even Beck chuckled a bit when he heard his season line.

“The ball was like a beach ball,” he said.

As impressive as his stats were, his power in the Oakland Coliseum likely secured his draft slot. Beck said A’s executive Billy Beane was enamored with him all season – team scouts attended most of his high school games – so Beck put it all on the table in his workout with the Athletics.

He left an impression, to say the least.

“It was as impressive a workout as I’ve seen in our stadium since I’ve been scouting here,” scouting director Eric Kubota said before the draft. “He hit in our stadium like big leaguers hit in our stadium.”

MikeTrout.jpg
Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) is a two-time American League MVP and was the AL’s 2012 rookie of the year. Kathy Willens AP

Beck hopes to soon be hitting in that stadium when it matters. The outfielder said he’s flying this weekend to Oakland, and he’s in the process of formally signing with the Athletics. Doing so means turning down his commitment to UNC, but it also means fulfilling what he calls a dream to compete for a spot on a 40-man roster.

Is he the next Mike Trout? It’s impossible to say, particularly when evaluating an 18-year-old against a generational superstar.

“You can’t really compare anything to him,” Beck said. “He’s the best player in the game.”

But Beck knows he’s got the tools to merit the comparison. And with his current trajectory, nothing seems like hyperbole.

C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart

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