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Royal Flash
Gerry Callahan
July 19, 1999
Despite his rookie mistakes, Kansas City's dazzling centerfielder Carlos Beltran is at the head of his class
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July 19, 1999

Royal Flash

Despite his rookie mistakes, Kansas City's dazzling centerfielder Carlos Beltran is at the head of his class

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Here's SI's All-Rookie team, based on performances through the All-Star break.

POS.

PLAYER, TEAM

VITAL STATS

C

Michael Barrett, Expos

.274, 3 HRs, 27 RBIs

Sometime third baseman has settled in nicely behind the plate; held back by shoulder injury

IB

Brian Daubach, Red Sox

.300, 9 HRs, 33 RBIs

Also a DH: .567 slugging percentage helping Sox get over the loss of Mo

2B

Joe McEwing, Cardinals

.305; 25-game hit streak

Plucky and versatile (also played IB, 55, 3B and OF); sets table for Cards' big hoppers

SS

Alex Gonzalez. Marlins

.291, 9 HRs. 39 RBIs

Was hit better and with more pop than expected; forms dandy double play tandem with fourth-year 2B Luis Castillo

3B

Corey Koskie, Twins

.306, 7 HRs, 34 RBIs

A cornerstone for callow Minnesota?

OF

Carlos Beltran, Royals

.302, 12 HRs, 59 RBIs

Leads American League rookies in eight categories, including steals (13)

OF

Preston Wilson, Marlins

.261, 17 HRs, 41 RBIs

Leads all rookies in homers; already more than a quarter of the way to stepdad Mookie 's career round-tripper total (67)

OF

Chris Singleton, White Sox

.316; 18 Ksin237ABs

Cycle-hitting centerfielder also good at gunning down runners (five assists, tied for 10th among AL outfielders) and stealing bases (9 for 9)

SP

Jeff Weaver, Tigers

6-5,3.84 ERA; 11 quality starts

Precocious 22-year-old has uncanny poise and command of fastball, slider, changeup

RP

Jeff Zimmerman, Rangers

8-0, 0.86 ERA

Out-of-nowhere setup man with nasty slider may well be the season's biggest surprise—and maybe even the AL MVP

The Goal, if you are Kansas City Royals centerfielder Carlos Beltran, is to be cool but not too cool. You have to step to the plate with the self-confidence of a superstar, then run out every infield pop-up like a third-string catcher trying to hold on to a job. You have to temper the pride of a potential franchise player with the humility of a rookie.

The hard part if you're Beltran, the most outstanding first-year player so far this season, is to remain humble even though you're lugging around so much natural talent that the airlines want you to check it at the gate. Just how gifted is he? Well, Beltran, a natural righthanded batter, taught himself to switch-hit. At 19. "I thought it looked like fun," he says.

A 22-year-old native of Manati, Puerto Rico, Beltran played winter ball with Bernie Williams in '95 and calls the New York Yankees' All-Star "my idol and hero." Each is a switch-hitting centerfielder with deceptive speed, uncommon agility and a calm, quiet demeanor that belies his competitiveness. "When I played with him, I watched everything he did," Beltran says. "I was always thinking, One day I want to be like him."

That day is apparently coming more quickly than most baseball people expected. After a stint with Double A Wichita, Beltran, the Royals' second-round pick in 1995, was called up to Kansas City last September. He hit .276 in 14 games and showed flashes of greatness. At spring training this year manager Tony Muser told him that centerfield was up for grabs, and Beltran went after it as if it were a sinking line drive. He hit .326, and Muser, as if he were handing the car keys to his teenage son, rewarded him with the job. Since then Beltran has done for Triple A what Kevin Garnett did for college hoops.

At the All-Star break Beltran led all major league rookies—and all but two American Leaguers—with 114 hits. He was batting .302 (.289 from the right side, .306 from the left) with 12 homers and 59 RBIs. "Early on, if you threw him a breaking ball, he was an out," says Chicago White Sox pitching coach Nardi Contreras, "but he's made adjustments, and now he's dangerous."

Still, Beltran is a rookie. On April 17 he cost Kansas City a game against the White Sox by muffing Magglio Ordonez's ninth-inning, bases-loaded single and then retrieving the ball much too casually. The next night Muser benched him. At week's end Beltran had made nine errors (tops among league outfielders) and too many ill-advised or off-target throws. For all Beltran's skills, Muser still sees him as a work in progress. "He's got to learn all the little things, such as hitting the cutoff man, running the bases, things that come with time," says the K.C. skipper.

Beltran, who says his hobby is sleeping, has already established himself as a player who is cool in the clutch. On July 2 in Cleveland, he delivered a three-run double in the 10th inning to beat the Indians. Four days later, against the White Sox in Comiskey, he threw out the potential winning run, the speedy Darrin Jackson, at the plate in the bottom of the ninth and then singled in the game-winner in the 10th. "I don't feel any pressure; I like those situations," Beltran says. "I know it's my first year, but I want to show people that I can be a great player at this level. I know no one knows who I am yet, but they will."

For a special few players, it's harder to stay humble than to hit a curveball.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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