By Mark Gonzales, Tribune reporter
8:52 PM CDT, October 9, 2012
For those who follow the Chicago White Sox on a daily basis, it could come as a major surprise that Gordon Beckham wasn't ranked among the top three defensive second basemen in a mid-season survey of American League managers conducted by Baseball America.
In case you're wondering, Robinson Cano of the Yankees, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox and Ian Kinsler of the Rangers were ranked as the top three.
But Beckham's defense seemed to typify the improvement the Sox made from 2011 from a defensive standpoint as they committed the fewest errors in the AL (70) while finishing tied with the Mariners for first with a .988 fielding percentage.
More impressive was the manner in which Beckham took throws from the left side of the field and rarely, if ever, flinched while completing throws to first base with base runners crashing on his legs.
Beckham's fearlessness is greatly appreciated by teammates -- especially his pitchers who rely heavily on defense to help them work out of jams.
Beckham also has done an exceptional job of moving to his left and pivoting quickly enough to make throws to second for no worse than force plays. He still possesses a shortstop's arm, and his play at second makes it hard to believe that he has played at second for only three seasons.
For the record, Pedroia and Cano made fewer errors than Beckham (seven) but Beckham was involved in 110 double plays -- 10 more than the second most turned by a second baseman. His high-caliber play puts him above any decent fielding second baseman.
The biggest debate involving Beckham, however, will be whether he hits to the ability that was projected for him as the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft. He presents a very interesting case in his first winter as an arbitration eligible player.
He hit a career-high 16 home runs while cutting down his strikeout total to 89 -- 22 fewer than in 2011.
"He got to the point where he bought into what (manager Robin Ventura) and I had to say," first-year hitting coach Jeff Manto said. "We had some ideas for him. We were all on the same page. (Beckham), at first, said, 'Let me see what's going on, and I'll try to figure it out.' But he got to a point where he said, 'I'm in. What you got?' "
But Beckham failed to get an extra-base hit in his final 13 cq games, batting .182 during that span after batting .298 during the first half of September.
His .234 batting average was only four points higher than in 2011, when he seemingly had 8,000 batting coaches and the front office and staff members had a tug-of-war over whether he should have been demoted and who was to blame for his slump.
The Sox have a shortage of top-notch middle infield prospects. Carlos Sanchez arguably is the best position player in the system but is only 20 and could need one-half season of minor league seasoning before he's ready for the majors.
In the meantime, that's more than enough time for Beckham to increase his production and prove he's part of the future -- perhaps someday as a No. 2 batter.
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