In a miserable season filled with bad baseball, there have been very few bright spots for the Chicago White Sox.
This is especially true on the offensive side, where they have been abysmal all season long. However, one encouraging sign has been the resurgent bat of second baseman Gordon Beckham.
Yes, I said Gordon Beckham.
After another rough year at the plate in 2012, many were beginning to wonder if the 2008 first-round draft pick (No. 8 overall) would ever live up to his billing. He had a solid rookie campaign, but he hadn't shown the same ability at the plate since then.
The most glaring issues over the past couple of seasons have been his .232 batting average and .296 on-base percentage—he simply wasn't getting on base.
His power numbers weren't terrible, especially in 2012, when he hit a career-high 16 home runs and drove in 60, but the White Sox were expecting a little more from him at the plate.
Late in the 2012 season as he was continuing to struggle getting on base, Beckham tweaked his stance with the help of hitting coach Jeff Manto. He began to hit the ball a little better. The results were not there right away, but it was obvious to anyone who had seen him hit over the past few seasons that he had a much better approach at the plate.
Beckham had changed his stance a few times over the previous couple of seasons, but this time it was more effective. He began to employ more of a crouch at the plate instead of standing so upright.
Coming into the 2013 season, Beckham added a a few more tweaks in addition to the crouch. In his setup at the plate, he now has the bat angled flat over his shoulder, a la Cal Ripken, and then moves it straight up as the pitcher delivers the pitch. This has allowed him to get his bat through the hitting zone quicker.
It was an unusual situation where when we looked at him and thought, "Where would we start first?" The unusual part is collectively, we said we would change his top hand, that's unheard of. He has such a strong grip, and like an overgrip, I guess. I don't know what you would call it on his top hand. I've never seen anything like this. That's what evolved. So, he changed that. We had mentioned to him pay attention to this, and he came back and it's great.
All of these changes finally appear to be paying off. Beckham looks much more comfortable at the plate this season, but more importantly he's getting the results.
When asked earlier this season about the changes he has made to his stance, Beckham said to Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago, “I changed my stance at the end of 2012, but my entire approach is different, the results have been good, but it is not the stance as much as having a better mindset and approach.”
However, this season didn't start without its problems.
Not even two weeks in, Beckham fractured a bone in his left hand, causing him to miss roughly two months. This was especially disappointing because he was off to a good start, hitting .316 through his first seven games.
No one was sure what to expect when he came off the DL in early June, but Beckham hasn't let up. He currently leads the team with a .308 batting average and a .360 OBP in 237 at-bats.
When asked about the dip in his power numbers (3 HR, 17 RBI) so far this season, Beckham responded this way (via Levine):
Whether power comes with this stance, I don’t really care, I have had a season where I hit .230 and hit 16 home runs, and so far this year I have hit .300 and zero home runs. I don’t know what other people would prefer, for now I don’t really care. I would rather get on base and score runs and make some things happen for my team. I believe some of the power outage has to do with what I went through with my hand surgery.
If he can continue to hit this way and get on base at this rate, then the guy the White Sox thought they had all along may have finally arrived.
And there's certainly no questioning his defense.
Beckham has been one of the top defensive second basemen in baseball over the past couple of years, although he hasn't been quite as sharp this season. He has committed seven errors so far this year, which is the same amount he had all of last season.
Regardless, there aren't many other guys you would rather have behind you defensively at second base. Just ask his counterpart at shortstop, Alexei Ramirez, who said (via Merkin), "He's the best second baseman that I've seen, he has that confidence. In playing with him, I feed off that confidence. You could see it right away in how he plays second base."
And now it seems Beckham has that same confidence at the plate, which is good news for the White Sox and their fans.
If he shows that he can sustain his newfound production at the plate and continues to play defense the way he has, Beckham may yet live up to the hype.
For a guy who has taken a lot of criticism over the last couple of years for his ineffectiveness at the plate, he might have the last laugh.
And I'm sure most White Sox fans would be happy to laugh right along with him.