Gordon Beckham a natural at 2B
White Sox's 23-year-old rising star is learning another new position this spring
Gordon Beckham's transition from third base to second base, in theory, shouldn't be any more difficult than moving from Double-A to Triple-A to the major leagues to becoming the Sporting News rookie of the year at a position he played for only a few games professionally.
"Playing second base, except for the turn [6-4-3 double play], is relatively easy," Beckham said.
"The turn" as Beckham calls it, was a problem when the spring training games began -- only because there were very few chances for him to practice the play with a runner bearing down on him and his back to the play.
"We had our first one the other day," Beckham said, two weeks into spring training. "It was a clean transition. We actually got the outs." Beckham did trip over the baserunner, however.
"I feel pretty good about it," he said. "It's extremely tough to see the ball in our ballpark [Camelback Ranch] because the seats are all low, so it's easy to lose the ball in the shirts. But I'm feeling pretty confident right now."
The technical side of playing second base involves more subtle techniques than Beckham's transition from shortstop to third. At second base, there are three or four arm angles to throw from and four to six different moves to the second-base bag on force plays and double-play opportunities. For many 23-year-old players, moving from shortstop to third base to second base is something an organization wouldn't even attempt. In Beckham's case, the baseball athleticism and baseball IQ are so high that White Sox brass didn't hesitate to move the native Georgian after trading infielders Chris Getz and Josh Fields to Kansas City for Mark Teahen, who has been installed as the White Sox's regular third baseman.
"A lot of this I'm going to have to learn and adjust to during the regular season," Beckham said. "It's pretty apparent that even spring training isn't the same competition or the same adrenaline level that you get when the games begin, so those are some of the things that I'll have to go through to learn the position."
Confident but really never cocky is one way to describe Beckham. He's hasn't experienced much self-doubt transitioning through college, the minor leagues and into the majors in what seems like a seamless fashion.
"Changing positions shouldn't really have much effect on my offense," Beckham said. "Defensively I think I'll be better every day, even better than at third. I'm hoping to be as good offensively and maybe go a little higher than last year. My swing feels pretty good right now."
Future Hall of Fame shortstop Omar Vizquel, now a backup infielder for the White Sox, has been impressed with Beckham and has watched the youngster's transition for third base to second with some interest.
"I know he's anxious to do well," Vizquel said. "I think he's going to be good. He's told me already he's comfortable over there. I watched the way he moves and the way he reacts and the way he turns a double play in practice. It makes me believe that he's not going to have any trouble making the adjustments."
I asked Vizquel about his move from being an All-Star shortstop to second base later in his career.
"It was more difficult than I thought it would be," Vizquel said. "It felt crooked, a little bit, just upside down. Everything was kind of backwards. You throw and make different pivots at second base."
Vizquel agreed with the premise that playing shortstop first gives a player like Beckham an advantage trying to move to another position on the field.
"There's no doubt as a shortstop that you're in charge of many of the things that go on on defense," Vizquel said. "I know having that experience and having that vision at shortstop is really going to help him out as he changes his game."
White Sox bench coach Joey Cora has been in charge of Beckham's move from the minor leagues to third base to second base. During the winter, Beckham made the trip from Georgia to Cora's home near Miami for "second-base boot camp."
"He's been working very hard on turning the double play," Cora said. "The only thing he needs is repetition. He needs to go through game situations to get better."
Mark down Cora as another fan of what Beckham has done so far in his brief major league career.
"What he did last year, learning a new position he never played at the big league level, is tougher than what he's trying to do this year," Cora said. "Coming to the big leagues from Double-A and playing at a high caliber right away was a huge adjustment for him. He hardly played more than a few games at the position in the minor leagues and then he was thrown into a pennant race. This time, he's had all offseason and spring training to work at second base. He should do well. It will surprise me if he doesn't."
Cora admitted that getting knocked down by runners at second base takes a little getting used to.
"He's a tough kid," Cora said. "It will take some time, but he'll get it done. Getting used to the runner coming into you with your back to him is something that you can't simulate in practice, but he's a baseball player -- no doubt he will handle it."
It doesn't appear that Beckham's offense has been affected this spring since he made the switch to second. He's hitting .333 with four doubles, a home run and four RBIs so far this spring.
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