Beckham accepting of role with White Sox
Perhaps not considered core, second baseman still aims to better club
CHICAGO -- When talk of strengthening the White Sox core has come up over the past five months, the names of Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and most recently Matt Davidson arise.
Chris Sale, one of the game's best starters, gets a deserved quick mention, and the same goes for fellow rotation stalwart and southpaw Jose Quintana as a member of this movement.
Gordon Beckham doesn't seem to be included quite as frequently.
Maybe that Beckham exclusion comes from trade rumors swirling around the second baseman since early in the offseason. Maybe it's because Beckham begins his sixth Major League season when White Sox position players report to Camelback Ranch on Feb. 20 and simply seems older than his age of 27, which will be Abreu's age on Opening Day. Maybe it's because Beckham's offensive statistics haven't met his breakout effort from 2009.
Then again, maybe White Sox fans, and to some extent, the organization, just don't know how to classify Beckham at this still formative stage of his career.
Some of the problematic perception surrounding Beckham can be traced to that 2009 campaign. He took over at third base on June 4 with precious little experience for the position at any level, and his .270 average with 14 homers, 28 doubles, 63 RBIs and OPS+ of 106 earned him a couple of top American League Rookie honors as voted on by his peers.
Suddenly, Beckham was being favorably compared to a far more accomplished Michael Young, and there were even a few mentions as to how quickly he could become a viable Most Valuable Player Award candidate. Beckham became the talk of the ensuing offseason, had an in-season radio spot and was being groomed as the next face of the franchise.
All after 430 plate appearances.
When Beckham's production dipped to a .252 average in 2010 and his on-base percentage checked in at .296 during each of the following two seasons ('11 and '12), the uproar over his shortcomings seemed to be a little louder than for most. Beckham was a homegrown product, after all, a first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, and he symbolized the White Sox future.
Not even his stellar defense at second, where he became one of the steadiest players defensively in the AL, silenced the critics. At some point, the discussion has to become whether Beckham would be better served as part of a new organization.
It's not an indictment of Beckham's potential but more about a change of scenery benefiting a player as much as a change in batting mechanics. The overall trade concept brought about a pragmatic and veteran-like response from Beckham, who wants to stay with the White Sox, when asked recently by MLB.com.
"If they trade me to get better, if they think that gets them better, they will do it and need to do it," Beckham said. "I'm a White Sox. They drafted me, and I want them to do well.
"I'll thank them and tell them how much I appreciate them sticking with me through the bad times. I guess what I'm saying is I used to care a lot about [getting traded], but I don't care anymore. If they do trade me, it means some other team wants me, and it could be a good situation. I don't worry anymore."
The most important part for Beckham from the last four years becomes the learning process. He has talked about that growth during each of the past four offseasons, sincere talk sometimes met with skepticism, as this is an on-field results-based game and not measured by how much a player understands his role or particular situation.
In reality, Beckham resides in as confident of a place offensively as he's been since 2009. These assessments shouldn't be considered excuses made by Beckham, much like the fact that the removal of a fractured left hamate bone, a strained ligament in his left wrist and a right quad strain limited him to 103 games in '13 and literally had him limping to the finish line of an improved offensive effort.
"I was thinking about it the other day, in that I was healthy for a month and a half last year: from the beginning of June to the All-Star break," Beckham said. "But I know I'm getting better for all the right reasons.
"Last year I made good strides in the right direction. I backed the ball up better, squared up a lot more balls. I really think I'm in a good spot. My game is getting better, finally."
Dayan Viciedo can relate to the Beckham scenario. The power-packed left fielder came to the White Sox prior to the 2009 season with a great deal of fanfare as a free agent from Cuba, but after just two full Major League seasons in '12 and '13, the free-swinger hasn't found the expected middle-of-the-order consistency.
One injury-free successful season is all it takes to turn things around for both these players, as well as altering the perception hovering around them. The second-year arbitration-eligible Beckham also has a leadership role on this much-changed 2014 roster, so ultimately he could be helping the core grow as much as being part of it.