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White Sox Thu Feb 17 2011

White Sox Preview: Part Five -- Gordon Beckham

Thumbnail image for white sox.gifPart of a series previewing the 2011 White Sox.

The sophomore slump is difficult.

Last season, no one understood that more than Gordon Beckham.

Beckham's 2009 season was one of a star on the rise, less than a year after the Sox drafted him eighth overall out of the University of Georgia. He was voted AL Rookie Of the Year by his peers. After hitting .270/.347/.460 with 14 home runs and seven stolen bases in his first season, the foundation for a strong second season had been laid.

Then came the struggle.

Beckham was supposed to build on his successful 2009 season. In 2010 he was supposed to be the ideal No. 2 hitter as someone who could get on base often. He was supposed to be that versatile infielder who could play any position. But for the first half of the season, Beckham showed little promise.

On June 23, roughly halfway through his season, he bottomed out at .199 with one home run and a .515 OPS. His swing mechanics were back to unconventional; his swing-at-anything game plan at the plate produced way too many weak outs.

Defensively, Beckham struggled as well. The transition from third base to second seemed difficult for the former college shortstop, with a season total of 12 errors. Fan Graphs ranked Gordon Beckham the worst starting second baseman last season, with a Total Zone Rating of minus-17.

Yet after a benching for three games before the All-Star break, the phenom returned. In his final 67 games, Beckham batted .310/.369/.516 with eight home runs. His confidence at the plate and in the field improved until a late season hand injury ended his season.

Thus, one of the biggest questions of spring training: Which Gordon Beckham will the White Sox see in 2011? The hard-hitting 2009 rookie or the streaky and unpredictable sophomore?

That rookie year wasn't a fluke for Beckham, and the 2011 season could be his breakout season. He's shown flashes of greatness throughout his career thus far and now is the time for Beckham to put all of the pieces together.

Beckham has recovered from his hand injury and is ready for spring training. If he remains consistent, realistically Beckham could have 20 home runs, an average around .290, and 10 stolen bases -- though not all projections are so optimistic. Going through the slump last season might have been the mental motivation Beckham needed to continue on the path of success. He certainly does not want to go back to that.

The White Sox organization has faith in Beckham, and he's expected to remain the No. 2 hitter. With so much power following him in the lineup -- Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and let's hope Carlos Quentin and A.J. Pierzysnki -- his ability to get on base and hit consistently will be crucial. Look for Beckham to appear more confident defensively as he begins his second season in his new position. Both his offensive and defensive transition periods are over and it's time for him to settle down and find his comfort zone.

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