Sports Nest: Beckham epitomizes ups and downs of prospects

July 28, 2010

By Matt Nestor
Sports Columnist

As the Chicago White Sox get ready to try to make some moves to get ready for the stretch playoff run, you can’t help but look at the curious case of Gordon Beckham.

Beckham has had wild swings of success and failure in his little more than a year at the Major League level. And his swings seem to almost coincide with the success of his team.

Beckham was the eighth pick in the 2008 draft out of the University of Georgia. At the time, the White Sox and scouts were excited about Beckham’s potential.

Scouts universally agreed he was a steal and had All-Star potential. Some scouts even thought he could be an All-Star within two years.

Beckham was signed as an afterthought in the summer of 2008. He played in the minors without making too big of a splash.

He was invited to spring training for the experience, but with no expectations. But something strange happened in spring training 2009. Beckham was one of the best players on the team.

You could have easily agreed with the White Sox if they had broken camp with Beckham on the team, despite his age. But they sent him down to start the season, and he got off to a horrible start. Once the Sox got to June, they were so far behind, they decided it was the right time to bring up the young prospect.

And when he arrived, he…did nothing. He did not make a huge impact and struggled out of the gate. He popped a few home runs, but not much else. But the thinking was the team was bad enough, you could leave him up, struggling.

Then, Beckham got hot in July—and carried it through to the end of the year. He finished with 14 homte runs, 63 RBI and hit .270. And the White Sox finished the season on a roll and had something to look forward to for this year.

The Sox then came into the current season with high expectations, in large part because of the assumption Beckham would build on his rookie campaign.

And when the season started, he…did nothing. Beckham, and the White Sox, got off to a horrible start. And the once-promising season was going down the drain. Only this time, Beckham’s struggles weren’t ignored, and fans were wondering out loud whether he needed to spend more time in the minors.

Then, in mid-June, Beckham started to get hot, and the White Sox went on a 25-5 run to get into first place in the American League Central division by the All-Star break. He has continued through July, hitting almost .400 for the month.

Which puts the White Sox in an odd position. The front office thinks they may need a bat. To get that bat, they may need to deal Beckham. And the same White Sox fans who were sick of him when June started are ready to revolt if he is dealt.

It may be wrong to include him in a deal for Prince Fielder or Adam Dunn. But the White Sox have put themselves in this awkward position.

They are the ones that put much of their 2010 season on a young player. And young players will always have their ups and downs.

This much is obvious about Beckham: he is talented and smart. He came up, made adjustments. The league made adjustments to him to start this year, and he has made them back.

But his story is far from over. Plenty of players have had a good year or two to start their career before tailing off. Plenty have started bad and went on to good careers.

So, the position the White Sox are in is, do you ride out this year with Beckham, who is likely to have another downturn, and risk the team’s success again mirroring his? If you do that, there is a chance you waste some good pitching and miss a chance for a World Series, which Chicago fans should know doesn’t happen too often.

On the flip side, a veteran may not guarantee anything. And if Beckham plays to his potential, the White Sox could miss out on a lot more in the future.

But the White Sox have nobody to blame but themselves for this position. A young player like Beckham should never be put in the position to be expected to lead a team. And now the White Sox have to decide if they made the right decision, or if they need to correct their error.

Share your thoughts with Matt Nestor via e-mail at sportsnest@gmail.com.

From the July 28-Aug 3, 2010 issue

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