Durham manager Charlie Montoyo could see Tim Beckham was on the verge of a breakout. He could hear it too.
"I know the ball sounds different off his bat," the Bulls skipper said prior to Tuesday's Triple-A National Championship. "I want to say it was after the All-Star break. I could see it. I could feel it. I could hear it."
Montoyo's eyes and ears weren't deceiving him. Ever since the midsummer classic, his 23-year-old shortstop has emerged as one of Durham's best hitters, and with Tampa Bay's then-top prospect Wil Myers promoted to the Majors around that time, the breakout has been conveniently timed.
The manager tabbed Beckham -- ranked 16th in the Rays organization -- as his No. 3 hitter for Tuesday's title game, and he said that was something Beckham earned with his second-half performance.
Beckham's number since the All-Star Break have been exceptional for a shortstop. He's hit .291 with a much-improved 29-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that time. His on-base percentage climbed 43 points to .371 and his OPS reached .781.
Those contributions were critical for Durham as it fought down the stretch to grab the International League South title, and Beckham continued to be a factor in the postseason. The first overall pick from the 2008 Draft hit .290 in the postseason with a .740 OPS, leading all International League postseason participants with nine hits.
This season is Beckham's third with at least a little time spent in Triple-A. The shortstop reached Durham in 2011, hitting .255 with a .744 OPS in a 24-game stint. After serving a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to begin 2012, Beckham returned to the Bulls and hit .256 with a .686 OPS in 72 games.
It's apparent to Montoyo that he's polished his game this season, and that new level of consistency is showing up in the box score. Apparently, he's nearly convinced the folks in Tampa Bay's front office, too -- the Rays are reportedly considering adding Beckham to its roster this September, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Montoyo thinks Beckham's ready to get his shot. He's seen the improvements offensively, and is a believer in his defense too.
"He could go to the big leagues tomorrow and play short," Montoyo said. "He might get bigger [and have to move to another spot] because he's just a kid. Right now, he could play shortstop in the big leagues."
"I'm very happy with my performance on defense this year," Beckham said. "I had a couple of stretches where I scuffled a little bit, but that's the game of baseball. Everybody scuffles at times. Everybody looks at how you respond to that, how you respond to the struggles.
"I just feel like no struggle, no success."
It's a mentality that has served Beckham well. As MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo wrote in the preseason about the shortstop: "Unless you become a superstar, it's nearly impossible to live up to the expectations that come with being a No. 1 overall pick."
Beckham may have lost some of his luster, but he still looked like a player who could contribute in the Majors in the near future. He's only strengthened that position with his performance this season.
"No one's perfect, man," he said. "You can strive for perfection and that's what you do every time you take the field.
"You take the field for practice, you take the field for the game, you want to go about it in a professional manner. You want to go about it in a way to get better. You learn something every day, and if you don't, at least try to."
Beckham isn't shy about his confidence. He declined to address the report that he may be Major League-bound prior to Tuesday's game, but even if it doesn't come this month, it likely won't be long until the 23-year-old gets his chance.
"All of my game can get better and it has gotten better. It's going to continue to get better every year," he said. "I know that.
"I have the confidence in myself and I'm not going to lose the confidence in myself. You can call it cocky, you can call it confident, you can call it whatever you want, but when I spike up, when I get in between those white lines, I want to feel like I'm the best person on the field and I want to feel like my team is going to win that game."