May 28, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham (15) makes a diving catch against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago White Sox’s Gordon Beckham is that guy.
You know the type. The first-rounder who takes the league by storm his rookie season, has the intangibles of a budding superstar, and just never puts it all together.
The thing about Beckham though is that he’s not a washed up 34-year-old out of the bigs. He’s only 28 years old, entering what are traditionally a ballplayer’s prime years. We’ve all become accustomed to the “Why [insert year here] Will Be the Year Gordon Beckham Breaks Out” articles and those repetitive offseason editorials became somewhat of a tradition on the South Side.
It may be easy to forget, but this type of hope for the former No. 8 overall pick was still present as recent as before the ’14 season, with this article penned by MLB.com’s Scott Merkin serving as a prime example.
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Of course we all know what happened in ’14. Beckham continued to bring his solid defense but was unspectacular with the bat, which ended up precipitating an in-season trade to the Los Angeles Angels.
What gets lost is that Beckham actually had a couple promising stints last year, including an .810 OPS in May before dropping off completely in the subsequent months of July and August. During last May, he had a BABIP of .349, a sign that Beckham was finally hitting the ball with authority. That authoritative stroke was translating into solid gap power.
A similar narrative occurred in 2013, when Beckham missed some time early with a wrist fracture. Upon his return, he looked like he had finally figured it out, posting an .800 OPS with a .335 batting average over 43 games. A dreadful second half marred by hamstring issues made this nice little stretch appear like a mirage.
Apr 20, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham (15) singles in the bottom of the ninth inning to score shortstop Alexei Ramirez (10) against the Cleveland Indians at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Beckham’s struggles in the ’10, ’11, and ’12 seasons can be written off as the product of a young player who was simply pressing too much. He was changing his approach on what felt like a daily basis in an attempt to try to live up to the expectations in Chicago that at one point were loftier than the Willis Tower.
The encouraging thing about his ’13 and ’14 seasons is that he was able to maintain a consistent approach throughout them. Notably, he reverted back to more of a crouch stance, which was reminiscent of the one he used during his rookie campaign and it appeared to be at least a little more effective.
I was surprised when the Angels non-tendered Beckham in the fall because he had posted a competent .268/.328/.429 slash line with them over 26 games, while simultaneously bringing plus defense at multiple infield positions.
The White Sox snagged him for $2 million, on a one-year deal in January, and it honestly wasn’t a bad price for a guy who could fit in a solid utility role. It was never intended for Beckham to be the starting second baseman in ’15 and he understood that.
According to Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane Beckham was in a good place after his time out West:
"“After just a few months away, Beckham said he thinks he is in “a much better place” than he was when he was traded. Hahn said it might help if Beckham feels less internal pressure in his second stint. ‘Getting away was good for me in general,’ said Beckham, who played 26 games at multiple positions for the Angels. ‘I needed some time to reboot (and) work on my game. That’s something I feel I did in Anaheim.'”"
The silver lining for Beckham returning to a roster that was now headlined offensively by Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Adam Eaton, and Melky Cabrera among others was that the spotlight had dimmed significantly. Consequently, so had the expectations.
The spotlight is no longer on Beckham in Chicago and that could be a good thing.
Beckham’s taken this in stride, and has been good for a 1.034 OPS in 23 plate appearances so far in ’15. He’s also shown a greater propensity to take a walk, accumulating 3 free passes during Friday’s rain shortened contest.
Strikeouts have never been Beckham’s downfall as he sports a 16.7 career K%, which according to Fangraphs.com is actually above average, especially in today’s offensive landscape.
With Beckham it is all about how he barrels up balls and if he can consistently generate line drives. So far so good in ’15.
Beckham is capitalizing on his diminished role with the club, and manager Robin Ventura has certainly found ample opportunities to use him.Whether he’s been penciled in as a pinch hitter, defensive replacement, or platoon partner for third baseman Conor Gillaspie, Beckham’s been effective thus far.
This has made me ponder something: Is Beckham in the midst of his best campaign since he was the new kid on the block in 2009?
It’s too soon to tell, but the answer is looking like a yes.
Beckham is an upgrade defensively over Gillaspie at third, and if he stays hot in his current role it isn’t hard to imagine Beckham vying for even more playing time, especially if Gillaspie enters into a prolonged slump as he did in the second half of last year.
Wouldn’t it be a coup, or almost comical, if Beckham’s breakout year actually occurred this season, a year where not single pundit was willing to extend the window of optimistic thinking.
I started to think this was merely wishful thinking on my part, but there is in fact precedent for such a career arc.
Next: Travis Snider