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Taking It To Another Level CARLOS BELTRAN Wants To Be A Major League Star.

Rookie of the Year in '99, Royals center fielder seeks to polish his skills in hitting and on defense

CARLOS BELTRAN WON'T BE satisfied with Rookie of the Year. Royals bench coach Jamie Quirk is certain of that.

"Some kids just want to make it in the big leagues. He wants to be a star. He has the goal to be a star," Quirk said.

"A lot of us just wanted to be in the big leagues, but he wants to take it to another level. You can see that from the way he goes about his business. When he's done with this game, he wants people to remember him."

Baseball writers made Beltran, 22, a near-unanimous selection as the American League's top rookie last year. He received 26 of 28 votes; Seattle pitcher Freddy Garcia and Boston first baseman Brian Daubach each got one.

No wonder that's all they got. Beltran, the Royals' center fielder, drove in 108 runs and scored 112. He had 22 home runs, seven triples, 27 doubles and 27 stolen bases. His batting average was .293.

And he was all over the outfield, stealing would-be homers and doubles and amassing 16 assists.

"The last time I can remember any body having a year like that was Fred Lynn," Toronto manager Jim Fregosi said. "And Beltran signed out of high school, didn't he? Fred Lynn was out of a major college program."

Indeed, Lynn's first year with Boston netted him not only honors as Rookie of the Year but also the Most Valuable Player Award. Of course, the Red Sox won the pennant that season. A contending club is almost a prerequisite for an MVP, something Beltran obviously didn't have last year. Even though voters can list 10 players on MVP ballots, Beltran didn't get a mention.

That could change this year.

If the Royals play well, Beltran could have a shot at duplicating the feat of Cal Ripken Jr., who was Rookie of the Year in 1982 for the Baltimore Orioles and MVP the next season.

"If we can make the playoffs, that's real important to me," Beltran said. "I'm not trying to be the Most Valuable Player of the American League. I want to have a good year and play hard, that's it.

"I think I can play in the big leagues 10 or 15 years. If I play that long, maybe I'll get the chance to win one of those awards. But more important to me is win--win, make the playoffs."

Beltran had a busy winter. He married his wife, Jessica, in Puerto Rico, won the rookie award, was honored at dinners in Kansas City and New York and played winter ball on his island homeland, Puerto Rico.

When he came to spring training, Beltran didn't slow down. He was hitting, fielding and running well. He showed m) indication of a sophomore slump.

"The sky's the limit for him," teammate Joe Randa said. "He's got all the tools, no doubt about it."

Beltran began last season as the leadoff hitter but quickly showed he could be productive in the crucial No. 3 slot. So he was switched with left-fielder Johnny Damon.

"I was leading off, and in the beginning, I wasn't comfortable because that was my first year at leading off," Beltran said. "I started thinking I can take advantage of this because I'm going to have a lot of at-bats and a lot of opportunities to do things. When the first month passed, I was still uncomfortable being leadoff.

"When I batted third, what I did was think to do the same thing I was doing batting leadoff, take the pressure off myself."

But, in fact, Beltran thrives on pressure. He likes being in clutch situations, always the mark of a great player.

"I think if he set his goals to do what he did last year, he would still have a great year," pitcher Blake Stein said.

True enough. What Stein likes is that Beltran doesn't let a slump, rare though it may be, bother him.

"Every hitter goes through it. He'll have some peaks and valleys during the year. But the good thing about him is if he gets into that valley, it doesn't affect him. He comes right back strong. He may have an 0-for-10 stretch, but he'll come back and get four or five hits in the next two days and be right on track again," Stein said.

"Nothing seems to rattle him. He can go right after guys, and he doesn't tense up or anything. He just stays relaxed and produces when he has to."

Beltran, like Damon, jumped from Class AA Wichita to the majors without wavering.

"I was surprised at the power he showed. I didn't think he'd show that right away," Quirk said. "The other thing that surprised me: I didn't know he had that good an arm."

Coach Frank White has been working with Beltran on one weakness, the ability to come in on sinking liners and ground balls.

"He has the tendency to look up before he gels to the ball," White said.

Beltran is making progress on that problem, and when he does get the ball with runners moving, he unleashes a throw with such force that he sprawls to the ground, a move that White calls "the ultimate follow-through."

Why don't more outfielders do that?

"I don't know," Beltran said. "Maybe they don't feel comfortable, they don't know how to do that. Maybe you're born with that. Nobody taught me that. I just got that by myself."

Beltran's hitting draws the most attention, though. And he has a Hall of Fame admirer in George Brett, who worked with Beltran during spring training.

Brett remembered watching a game last season from the Crown Seats near the Royals' dugout with three friends.

"He's doing his little rhythm, and all of a sudden, he gets back and everything is right where it should be. And the guy throws a pitch, and as the ball's coming in, he takes it," Brett said.

"And I'm going, `Ohhhhhhh!'"

Brett's buddies wondered what the problem was.

"If he had thrown a strike right there, he'd have hit the stuffing out of it," Brett told them. "The next pitch, he hit a home run, swear to God." Beltran often looks like that in Brett's eyes.

"It's like Charley Lau used to tell us, used to tell me: `You look very hitterish up there. You look hitterish, you look like you're going to hit the ball hard,'" Brett said in camp.

"When everything was in sync, your fundamentals were all finely tuned, and your rhythm was good and you're taking pitches. I mean, he took that pitch effortlessly. It just looked like his whole body was in the flow. And the next pitch, he hit a home run. And that's how he looks now. He looks like he's going to hit the ball hard every time up there."

Beltran enjoys the attention that accompanies his celebrity, although not being in a media center such as New York or Los Angeles has kept him from becoming overwhelmed.

"It's almost the same. People call me more and ask me for more autographs, but it's about the same as last year," he said. "But I like it. I like people talking about me, about my defense or what I'm doing. I like to see that, and that makes me work hard. I don't want to let those people down and fail."

Failure is not on his agenda.

And Beltran sees the Royals on the upswing.

"I think we've got a really good team. Offensively, we can hit like the Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees. We can play good defense, too, and the only problem has been in the bullpen. But if we get our bullpen straight, we're going to win a lot more games than we did last year," he said.

"I know the starters were trying to do their best, and the bullpen did not respond well."

The key, Beltran said, is new closer Picky Bottalico. "If he can do his job, we have a chance to be in the playoffs," Beltran said.

If Beltran continues to improve and the Royals make the playoffs, this year or next, he probably will be in the running for an MVP Award.

In 1999, Beltran ...

* Became the first American League rookie to collect 100 RBI in a season since Mark McGwire in 1987.

* Became the first big league rookie with 100 RBI since Mike Piazza of the Dodgers in 1993.

* Became one of only four Royals to score 100 runs and collect 100 RBI in same season--joining Darrell Porter (1979), George Brett (1979, 1985) and Mike Sweeney (1999).

* Became only the eighth major league player to score 100 or more runs and have 100 or more RBI in his rookie campaign. The other players to accomplish this feat are:
Year   Player, Team               R    RBI

1929   Dale Alexander, Tigers    110   137
1934   Hal Trosky, Indians       117   142
1936   Joe DiMaggio, Yankees     132   125
1939   Ted Williams, Red Sox     139   145
1950   Walt Dropo, Red Sox       101   144
1950   Al Rosen, Indians         100   116
1975   Fred Lynn, Red Sox        103   105
1999   Carlos Beltran, Royals    112   108


From Rookie of the Year to MVP

Since 1947, there have been 16 players who have won a league Rookie of the Year Award and Most Valuable Player honors. Below is a list of major league players who have captured both awards.
                    Rookie Award        MVP Award
Player              Year, Team          Year, Team

Jackie Robinson     1947, Dodgers       1949, Dodgers
Don Newcombe        1949, Dodgers       1956, Dodgers
Willie Mays         1951, Giants        1954, Giants
                                        1965, Giants
Frank Robinson      1956, Reds          1961, Reds
                                        1966, Orioles
Orlando Cepeda      1958, Giants        1967, Cardinals
Willie McCovey      1959, Giants        1969, Giants
Pete Rose           1963, Reds          1973, Reds
Dick Allen          1964, Phillies      1972, White Sox
Rod Carew           1967, Twins         1977, Twins
Johnny Bench        1968, Reds          1970, Reds
                                        1972, Reds
Thurman Munson      1970, Yankees       1976, Yankees
Fred Lynn           1975, Red Sox       1975, Red Sox
Andre Dawson        1977, Expos         1987, Cubs
Cal Ripken          1982, Orioles       1983, Orioles
                                        1991, Orioles
Jose Canseco        1986, A's           1988, A's
Jeff Bagwell        1991, Astros        1994, Astros


Jackie Robinson was the first Rookie of the Year recipient in 1947, and won the N.L. MVP in 1949
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Author:KAEGEL, DICK
Publication:Baseball Digest
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:1720
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