COMMENTARY | In 2008, the Chicago White Sox drafted a 21-year-old shortstop by the name of Gordon Beckham with the eighth pick overall. During the 2009 season, there was an immediate need for a third baseman and a spark in the everyday lineup. So one year after being drafted and just 45 games at the minor-league level, Beckham found himself in a major-league lineup and at a position he barely knew.
As a rookie, Beckham hit 16 homers and drove in 63 runs while playing in just 103 games. He also added 28 doubles and an .808 OPS. His .270 average wasn't spectacular but with runners in scoring position, he hit .323, which was second to the team's top hitter, Scott Podsednik, that season. And it didn't take him long to figure out how to play the hot corner as he was easily the White Sox's best defensive player that season.
Despite the spark Beckham delivered, the White Sox went on to miss the playoffs and start the transition from the past to the future. They chose not to re-sign World Series heroes Podsednik and Jermaine Dye or fan-favorite Jim Thome thus putting some pressure on Beckham. He showed the ability to hit for both average and power, the ability to run, and the ability to excel on defense. Some envisioned him as the team's future three-hole hitter. And from there the expectations rolled in.
Fast forward to 2013. Beckham is a career .245 hitter, has yet to eclipse his 2009 totals in doubles and RBIs, and hasn't come close to sniffing his .808 OPS. One positive in the years since his rookie season is he has moved full time to second base and delivered Gold Glove-caliber defense. But the drop off in offensive production has caused him to go from second in the batting order to ninth because on a daily basis there are eight hitters in the lineup better.
Even with all his struggles, no one has given up on Beckham. Even in 2011 with the White Sox going into the month of August battling the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians for the AL Central lead, then-manager Ozzie Guillen continued to stick by him. Beckham finished the season in a two-month-long slump and went on to post career lows in average (.230), RBIs (44) and OPS (.633) as well as a career high in strikeouts (111).
Last season was much of the same for new manager Robin Ventura. Beckham continued his inconsistent play and was in the lineup every day. He did hit a career-high 16 home runs but his .234 average once again kept him glued to the bottom of the order.
So I raise the question: How much longer do the White Sox wait on Beckham? Currently, he comes into 2013 as a standout defensive second baseman and a marginal hitter with some pop. Last season, there were 18 second baseman who hit for a higher OPS than Beckham. He is also not a threat to steal bases (just five steals each of the last two seasons). There are going to be those who are quick to jump to his defense because he is so good with the glove. But at what cost? How many other players in baseball are in the lineup every day strictly because of their defense? Not many.
I am not calling for the White Sox to get rid of Beckham. The point of this is to no longer view him as the team's second baseman of the future. At just 26, there is that slight chance he starts to tap into his potential and show some kind of glimpse of the player he was pegged to be after his 2009 campaign. However, I'm not buying it. There has been no progression whatsoever of Beckham's ability to swing the bat. The slight home run spike last season was nice but not impressive. It's what we see is what we get from this point on.
If he is the team's everyday second baseman for this upcoming season, fine. But I hope general manager Rick Hahn considers what he has in Jeff Keppinger and keeps that in mind as he looks for ways to improve his club this offseason. Although he was signed to start for the White Sox at third base, Keppinger has played 400 games at second base over his eight seasons in the majors. With the likes of Gavin Floyd, Matt Thornton, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza all rumored to be on the trading block, a deal for a bat to play third base should not be out of the question.
The loss of A.J. Pierzynski is going to hurt the White Sox's everyday lineup. If another player can be brought in to help ease that pain at the expense of Beckham, whether it's playing time or him being traded, then that's what has to happen.
James Poellnitz is a Lewis University journalism graduate with a love for the Chicago White Sox and an even bigger love for baseball. He resides in Chicago and has been covering the White Sox and Major League Baseball as well as the NFL and NBA for various blogs since 2009.