A classic five-tool player, Beltran burst onto the scene with a brilliant rookie campaign, only to take major step backwards in his sophomore season. The Puerto Rican native made the leap from Double-A in 1998 to the Royals’ full-time center field job in 1999. Just 21 years of age when the season started, Beltran sometimes showed his youth in a lack of plate discipline (123 strikeouts against 46 walks) and a tendency to misplay balls in the outfield (an AL-high 12 errors), but more than made up for these peccadilloes with a surplus of natural talent.
Becoming the first rookie since Fred Lynn in 1975 to top the century mark in both runs and RBIs, the switch-hitting Beltran batted .293 with 22 home runs, scoring 112 runs and driving in 108. He rapped 194 hits, racked up 301 total bases and collected 27 steals. Despite his high error total, he showed great promise in the outfield, where his speed and athleticism helped him rob numerous batters of extra-base hits and his strong throwing arm cut down 16 enemy baserunners. After the season he received 26 of 28 first-place votes to easily win the BBWAA’s Rookie of the Year award.
Following all the promise of his first season, Beltran was a major letdown in 2000. He struggled badly from the left side of the plate and drew a brief mid-season benching from manager Tony Muser for a lack of hustle. Shortly afterward, a bone bruise on his right knee all but ended his season. Beltran made more trouble for himself when he refused to show up for rehabilitation at the Royals’ Florida training complex and was suspended without pay by the club. When he finally rejoined the Royals in September he found himself effectively locked out of the outfield, where leadoff man Johnny Damon had moved to center field and rookie Mark Quinn had taken over in left. In 98 games Beltran hit just .247 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs.