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

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.

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

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


COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA YOUTHFUL OFFENSE The fleet Beltran (13 for 20 in theft attempts) is still learning the ropes on the base paths.

Bumper Crop

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


C Michael Barrett, Expos .274, 3 HRs, 27 RBIs
Sometime third baseman has settled in nicely behind the plate;
held back by shoulder injury

1B 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 1B, SS, 3B and OF); sets table
for Cards' big boppers

SS Alex Gonzalez, Marlins .291, 9 HRs, 39 RBIs
Has 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 Ks in 237 ABs
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