Noted philosopher Forrest Gump was referring to life when he was talking about a box of chocolates. But he may as well have been referring to baseball prospects, because you never know what you’re going to get with those, either.
Top prospects come and go. Some meet or exceed expectations. Some come up well short. And a lot of them do both.
The Chicago Cubs seem to be on a bad string of prospects. The Los Angeles Dodgers haven’t seemed to miss on a prospect in decades.
Gordon Beckham was certainly a highly-touted prospect after being drafted by the Chicago White Sox last year in the June Major League Baseball draft. Many teams were hoping to get him, and many experts said he was the player the Sox wanted more than anyone in the draft.
Afterward, you didn’t hear a bad word about Beckham. Some thought he would be an All-Star shortstop. Others thought he would reach the majors within two years, which is a fast track for a prospect.
Beckham had other plans, however. Less than a year after the draft, and quicker than anyone could have expected, he came up to the big leagues to help a struggling South Side offense.
Now, we are coming out of the break, and Beckham is on fire. His average is skyrocketing, and he has firmly entrenched himself as the starting third baseman this year, even though his natural and long-term position is shortstop.
So, from that short perspective, it seems as though the Sox got more than they bargained for. But it is early in his career, and it is way too early to call this a great pick.
After the draft, many scouts also said the young shortstop had 20 to 25 home run power. And despite those expectations, Beckham hasn’t shown much power so far in his short time up.
What he is doing, however, is following the natural progression for a top prospect and future star. And for that, the White Sox have to be excited. And they are smartly making him untouchable in any trades.
Most top position player prospects follow a natural progression at the plate. First, they figure out how to hit major league pitching, no easy task. Then, they figure out how to hit for power.
Beckham struggled coming up. He had no hits in his first four games. Only two hits in his first eight. He was only hitting .183 after 20 games. But since then, he has figured it out.
Since June 26, Beckham has raised his average more than 100 points. He is also starting to hit doubles, drive in runs and hit smartly. The last thing to come is power, which could be right around the corner.
Beckham was also known as a pull hitter when he came up, something a lot of power hitters are known for. One of the most impressive things he has done since he has been up is consistently hit the ball to right field. He is taking what the pitchers are giving him, and finding ways to get on base.
As far as the natural progression goes, Beckham is right on schedule. If all goes well and he doesn’t get hurt, Beckham should be a good player next year as well and be ready in two years to be a superstar.
Having said all that, Beckham wouldn’t be the first player to have a great start to a career and then fall off.
Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes pitched so well before being hurt that New York didn’t want to trade him for Johan Santana a couple years back. Hughes has just now finally found a spot with the Yankees, in the bullpen.
Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Young hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases early in his career. Now, he is a horrible hitter who strikes out too much. So, early success means nothing.
But Beckham is playing like a budding superstar. He may very well be the key to the White Sox being able to push themselves in the playoffs this year. And he will likely be a big part in their chances to do it every year after that.
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from the July 22-28, 2009, issue