Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next is outfielder Austin Beck, an outfielder from North Davidson (N.C.) HS and a North Carolina commit. Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 175 lb., Beck overcame a serious ACL injury to become one of the main helium guys in this year’s class and has drawn Mike Trout comparisons.
Beck appears likely to be a top-10 pick, with Baseball America (14th-Royals), ESPN and MLB.com’s Jim Callis projecting him to go 6th overall to the Athletics and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Baseball America projecting him to the Brewers at no. 9. Be sure to check out Beck’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
At what point did you start playing baseball and realize you loved the game?
“I started playing around 3 or 4. I kind of knew at an early age that I’ve always loved it. I played other sports, but baseball was always the one that came first. It was the one where I would skip other sports just to get to my baseball games. I knew at 5 or 6 years old that it was my love.”
Growing up, did you have a favorite team? Favorite player?
“Growing up, the Braves were the hometown favorite. They were one of the only teams that were on TV as well. My favorite player was Chipper Jones.”
Was there a specific turning point moment when you realized you could turn pro and become a first-rounder?
“I kind of always knew that I could make it my career if I kept at it. When I got to high school, I got the idea I could be a top pick or a pick in the first round if I played to the best of my ability.”
You made a great decision in deciding to commit to UNC. What went into that for you?
“Especially the coaching staff. Obviously, the people around the team and the atmosphere of the whole campus. I’ve always kind of been a UNC fan, baseball-wise. It was a great experience committing there.”
North Carolina baseball is a big story of this draft, with you, MacKenzie Gore, Logan Warmoth and J.B. Bukauskas all projected in the first round. What does that say about North Carolina as a baseball state?
“A lot of people don’t really give us credit. There are years in the past that haven’t been this strong, but we’ve always had some great competition in the state of North Carolina, whether it’s college or high school.”
You went through a serious injury, tearing your ACL and meniscus in May 2016. Take me through your recovery process, and how difficult that was at a crucial point just a year before the draft.
“It was really tough, especially going through playoffs. I missed the state championship and couldn’t play. Then missing the whole summer of the ball and missing my summer team winning the world championship. It was really tough, just seeing my friends playing while I was stuck at home doing rehab. Doing rehab 3-4 times a week, that’s what I had to do to get back.”
Are there any lasting effects of that injury?
“None at all.”
Some scouts have expressed concern with how your game will translate with a wood bat. What’s your plan for adjusting your game to that?
“It just takes time. With the amount of at-bats you have, you can get used to it. Other than that, I think it’s just taking time.”
What’s your biggest strength as a player?
“The ability to square balls up.”
What part of your game do you hope to continue improving upon the most?
“What I’m working on right now is hitting low and away pitches. It’s been my weak suit in high school, but it’s what I’ve been working on the last couple of years. It’s gotten a lot better than it was, but it’s what I want to keep working on.”
Most big-time prospects are center-fielders before the draft, and some shift to the corners over time. What’s your expectation for where you’ll play in the pros, and where would you prefer to play?
“I don’t really have any expectations. It doesn’t really matter. I played right field for three years in high school and kind of got used to that, but preferably I’d like to be an elite guy in center-field.”
Coming off the injury, there were a lot of question marks about you. You answered those with a big spring and a meteoric rise back to the top of draft boards. What has that process been like, going from a question mark to someone people are raving about on the national level?
“It took a lot of hard work. I knew if I played to the best of my ability and played 100 percent, I could get to this point. It’s been really exciting, especially after not even playing at all. Last year I didn’t really think I would be in this position. I was just excited to go to UNC. Now this is really exciting.”
What will be the big factors in your decision between going to Chapel Hill and going pro?
“It’s always been my dream to go pro and compete for a spot on the 40-man. I don’t think it will be too big of a decision.”
Some scouts have thrown around the Mike Trout comparison with you. What’s it like being compared to a guy like that?
“It’s astonishing. Just to hear my name beside his name is amazing. He’s one of the best players in the game.”
You can say Mike Trout for this if you want, but who do you think is your best major-league comp?
Going into tonight, what are your expectations as to where you’ll end up? Any goals?
“Obviously my goal is to just be in the top 10. It’s the draft, you never know with things. A player could be taken to such-and-such, and then it makes teams freak out and there’s a good player left. I don’t really have any expectations, I don’t think.”
There’s always the debate this time of year between picking a high-ceiling, projectable high school guy or a polished college player. Why should teams take a chance on a high schooler?
“Obviously, age is a big factor in the draft. You have time to work with [high-schoolers] and can form them the way you want, the way that organization is. A college guy is formed already because they’re a whole lot older.”