WELCOME - Austin Beck had a pretty good idea early on that baseball could possibly take him somewhere. Blessed with rare physical tools, Beck normally stood out from other players, and his age and play on the field only reaffirmed his potential. Ability alone may have been enough to help Beck achieve his boyhood dream of making it to the major leagues, but the North Davidson High School (NDHS) alum wasn’t leaving anything to chance. Beck combined his natural talent with a dedicated focus on hard work, while learning along way that the game he loved was one of failure and perseverance.
When the day came last June, and the Oakland Athletics made Beck the sixth pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the realization of his dream culminated a lifetime of loving the game.
“God gave me some natural ability and I’m so thankful for that,” Beck, 19, said. “When I was younger, I was always one of the better guys. I wouldn’t say it was easier for me, but some things do come naturally for some people. I also put more time and effort into it than some people. I was out there every day; Thanksgiving, Christmas Day. God gave me some gifts and talents that not many people have, but I still had to work my tail off.”
Beck comes from a baseball family, as his father and grandfather both played the game and introduced it to him at a very young age. He was playing T-ball in Arcadia by the time he turned four and travel ball followed a few years later.
While he played other sports like football and basketball, baseball had taken hold. “I always played baseball, going back to when I was little, hitting whiffle balls around the house with my grandfather,” said Beck. “I fell in love with the game at an early age. I knew it was something I wanted to pursue and I wanted to put the time and effort into it.”
Beck made the decision entering the eighth grade to forgo the other sports and focus solely on baseball. He missed scoring touchdowns but knew baseball was where he needed to be. When he stepped onto the diamond, opposing managers saw why.
“By the time [Beck] came into middle school he was a little different than most,” Matthew Griffin, NDHS baseball coach, said. “He wasn’t made like most in that he was stronger and faster. He was hitting balls out of our ballpark in middle school and that was unusual.” Griffin was well aware of Beck’s enormous potential before he ever stepped foot on the NDHS campus. Living in the same Arcadia community gave Griffin an inside look at the player who would soon be anchoring the Black Knights lineup.
“I’ve known him since he was five or six years old,” said Griffin. “He’s a first-round draft pick, so he’s obviously a five-tool player. His best tool is probably his hitting tool. He can hit for power, he’s a fast runner and he throws 90 mph from the outfield. He’s your prototypical five-tool player that you don’t see very often. He’s also a very hard worker.”
Making the transition from middle to high school is an adjustment for any player, even the special ones. Facing varsity competition as a freshman proved to be an eye-opener for the young star, as the level of pitching was better than anything he had seen up to that point.
“It wasn’t easy transitioning to high school, but nothing is easy in baseball,” Beck said. “Baseball is a game of failure for a reason. You live and you learn. My ninth-grade year was really tough as that was the fastest pitching I had seen. The more at-bats you get the more comfortable and confident you feel in the batter’s box. If you step into the batter’s box and you’re not very confident, you’re not going to succeed. My freshman year, I was facing guys from West Forsyth and Mt. Tabor and I was like, ‘these guys are really good.’”
With his freshman season behind him, Beck now faced the constant evolution of adjustments. He changed and so did opposing pitchers. From one year to the next, Beck had to find new ways of getting the pitches he wanted. “The way I got pitched my sophomore year compared to my freshman year was totally different,” said Beck. “It put things into perspective in terms of what I needed to work on. My freshman year, it was low and away pitches I had to work on. During my sophomore and junior years, all I was seeing was curveballs. By the time my senior year came I was able to put it all together and have a pretty good season. It was all because I worked my tail off on things that I needed to work on.”
Beck accepted a baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill early in his high school career, providing him some security as to what his future may hold. In the end, the major leagues always were his primary goal.
“I committed to UNC my freshman year,” Beck said. “It was a great fallback option. Carolina has a great program and a great atmosphere. It made the pressure of high school different. You’re not worried about a scholarship or playing at the next level. You still have to work your tail off so you’re not falling behind other people.”
Beck’s career trajectory appeared to be right on course until an unexpected injury threatened his future. On May 13, 2016, as he was doing his normal pre-game outfield routine before a second-round playoff matchup against Pinecrest, Beck injured his left knee, tearing the ACL. The injury quickly ended his junior season and placed the star in the unfamiliar role of cheerleader as the Black Knights marched toward a state championship.
“We had a great team,” Beck said. “I knew we had a chance to win the state championship. When the injury came, I was hoping and praying it wasn’t something serious. When I got the news, all I could do was try and get back as soon as possible. It definitely hurt and was one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m a gamer and I thought I would just get back up and play. After a while, I jogged off the field and thought I’d be good to go in a few minutes. Then somebody bumped me and my knee just collapsed. I knew something seriously was wrong, and I went into
a little shock. It was tough seeing my buddies and best friends out there gaming it and fighting for a state championship in the game they love. All I could do was be the biggest cheerleader in the dugout.”
With a college scholarship in tow, Beck could easily have taken his rehabilitation slow and skipped his senior season at North to focus on his future. Taking it easy never was an option. “Injuries can happen just like that and the game was taken away from me,” said Beck. “It gave me a whole new appreciation for the game. A normal recovery is six to nine months. I got done in five months. I was up at D-1 sports in Winston every day, two, three hours a day, doing everything I possibly could to get back out there and play. I missed the summer and fall circuit for travel ball, so I just focused on getting in better shape than I was before. My focus was getting back for the high school season and competing for another state championship. There definitely was some pressure there, but I tried not to think about it and just focused on getting back to full health as soon as possible.”
Beck resumed baseball activities by the end of the year, putting him on track to return for his senior season. After so much time away from the game, Beck felt he could get back to his old self sooner rather than later.
“I learned to definitely not take anything for granted,” Beck said. “I was confident and actually got a little faster after the ACL injury. It did feel pretty weird being on the field again for that first scrimmage after five months of nothing. I felt really strong by the time the season started and felt like I would have a good year. My timing was a little off early on, but that was to be expected.”
Beck and the Black Knights returned to the post-season in defense of their state championship, but baseball showed again what a cruel sport it can be. Just as Beck began rounding into form, North Davidson lost to TC Roberson, and his high school career came to an end. In one of his finals games as a Black Knight, Beck smashed three home runs in a game and showed that he had indeed returned to being the type of player pro scouts covet.
“[Losing] was tough,” said Beck. “We lost a one-run game and I felt like whoever won that game would win the state championship because we were both really strong. They ended up winning it. I exceeded expectations from a personal standpoint. My hitting improved; I hit a few more home runs and stole some more bases. My plate discipline got a lot better, so I was happy with it.”
Any doubts of where Beck would go in the upcoming draft were quickly dispelled as the Oakland A’s selected him with the sixth overall pick. Sitting around with his family, Beck initially thought the Atlanta Braves may call, but once that didn’t happen he had a pretty good idea where he would land.
“We had an idea,” Beck said. “We thought the Braves were going to take me. We went down to Oakland before the draft and got the impression that they really wanted me. As soon as the Braves pick was over, we got the call. We were watching the draft and just waiting. Then my agent came in the room with a call, and it was the GM asking if I wanted to be an Oakland A?”
Oakland has a storied tradition of being able to develop their players, and Beck sees himself fitting in nicely with his new organization.
“They’re very loyal,” said Beck of the A’s organization. “The guys in their organization are the guys they want playing on their big-league team. It’s not like they’re going to go trade for the bigger guy. They want to grow their own players and their franchise that way.”
Beck spent the next few months after the draft playing for Oakland’s summer league rookie team in Arizona, hitting .211 over 41 games. The experience provided the youngster with some valuable insight heading into spring training.
“I’m just focused on staying consistent, having the same swing path every swing and staying in control of my swing,” said Beck. “I always had the dream of making it to the majors, and when it finally happened, it was a dream come true. It showed me that all my hard work paid off even though there’s still a lot of work left to do.”
Those close to him know Beck has what it takes to excel as a pro.
“He’s got to improve every part of his game and he’s got to get stronger,” Griffin said. “The main part of his game he needs to work on is plate discipline. He has to learn to not chase pitches out of the zone. He’s gotten better at that, but now pitches are 95, not 85. It’s a little bit different story. He just has to know what pitch he wants to hit and when he gets it, he can’t miss it.”
Beck likely will head to Oakland’s high A-ball team in Beloit, Wisconsin, once spring training breaks. He stays in constant contact with his father, Jeff, who Beck considers his biggest role model and most ardent critic. He’s also someone who is always there when Beck needs him.
“Every day during rookie ball, he texted me asking me what I did wrong and how I did,” said Beck. “Just asking questions and trying to help me fix things. Whenever I feel like I’m doing something wrong, I can always lean on him because I trust him more than anybody.”
As he embarks on his journey towards a major league roster, Beck encourages other kids to dream big. In order to get there, however, Beck stresses that nothing comes easy.
“I give the same advice to everybody that has the same dream as I do; the days that you don’t feel like working and you feel like sitting on your butt playing video games, those are the days you need to get out there and work,” Beck said. “Because there are other guys who do want it badly that are out there working their butts off.”
With his dreams in front of him, Beck can also now take care of the people who helped him reach his goals.
“My parents are my role models,” said Beck. “They didn’t grow up with much, so for me to be able to come home and give back to them is a dream come true and something I knew I wanted to do. I remember playing football in the morning then driving three hours to play baseball. Travel ball is expensive too. So for them to put their time and money into it showed how much they believed in me. It’s sweet to be able to pay them back for all their sacrifice.”
Beck no longer may be a big fish in a little pond, but his work ethic, determination and love of the game, coupled with that natural ability, puts the farthest stars within his reach.