What Happened to Gordon Beckham?

Adam Dunn is on target to have the worst season by a qualifying position player in 91 years. Alex Rios, who boldly predicted in spring training that the White Sox were clearly the favorites in the A.L. Central, has been a colossal disappointment.  But I would make the argument that the most disheartening aspect of the 2011 Sox is the continuing decline of Gordon Beckham.

The eighth overall pick of the Sox in the 2008 draft after a outstanding college career at the University of Georgia, he was an instant sensation. He impressed that year at Class A Kannapolis and hit .394 in the Arizona Fall League. In 2009, after a terrific spring training and solid stints at AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte, Beckham was promoted to the major leagues in early June and had the look of nothing less than a future All-Star. In 103 games, he socked 14 homers and drove in 63 runs with a .270 batting average. As validation of his impact, two separate player polls gave him the nod as the A.L. Rookie of the Year.

The excitement that the Sox had the new face of the franchise was short-lived as Beckham began the 2010 season with a prolonged slumped. He rallied after the All-Star break and showed some signs he was on the way back to his ’09 form. But an injury to his right hand after getting hit by a pitch in late August forced him to the sidelines and aside from pinch-running he didn’t play the last two weeks of the season.

The concerns about Beckham’s future were put on the back-burner during spring training this year as Beckham looked like his old, impressive self. But then the season began and we’ve all seen the results. Once settled in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, he’s now a No. 9 hitter at .238 with nine homers and just 33 RBIs.

Beckham’s descent into mediocrity, which has made him “just another guy” was never more evident than last night as the Sox dropped the 4-2 decision to the Indians, losing the three-game series.  Apart from going 0-4, Beckham struck out to end the sixth inning with men on first and second and fanned again in a crucial situation with the bases loaded in the eighth as he had another opportunity to tie the score or put the Sox ahead.

My intention is not to make Beckham the scapegoat for this year’s failures. There’s a lot of blame to go around. Hopefully he’ll adjust and get his offensive mojo back to go along with his elite defensive ability. But, to me, of all the developments in this less-than-satisfying season–including the Dunn and Rios sagas–the puzzling decline of Beckham is the most disappointing of all.

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