Sunday Notes: Gordon Beckham Feels the Best Is Yet to Come

One year ago this month, the Seattle Mariners signed Gordon Beckham to a minor-league contract, hoping that he could jumpstart a career in decline. That didn’t happen. The 31-year-old infielder slogged his way to a .706 OPS in Triple-A, then went an uninspiring 3 for 17 after a September call-up.

Despite those doldrums — and a lackadaisical track record that has seen him slash just .239/.303/.369 over parts of nine big-league seasons — Jerry Dipoto’s club is giving him another chance. So far he’s making the best of it. Going into yesterday, Beckham had nine hits, including a home run, in 13 spring training at bats.

The University of Georgia product was refreshingly honest when I asked him to assess his career thus far.

“I would describe it as having underperformed,” admitted Beckham, who was drafted eighth overall by the White Sox in 2008. “I started off well, and did some good things for a few years, but since then I haven’t played anywhere near my capabilities. If I don’t get it right soon, I probably won’t be playing much longer.”

Beckham was equally candid when asked why he hasn’t fulfilled his potential.

“I’ve gotten in my own way,” said Beckham. “Mechanically, there have been times when I was bad and didn’t want to accept that. I wanted to try to will myself through it and just be athletic. But there’s a fine line. If your mechanics break down enough, you can’t will yourself through it. Over the past couple of years, mechanics have definitely been the biggest breakdown.”

Earlier in his career, he flirted with the opposite end of that fine line, “maybe tinkering too much” with his mechanics. Now he’s trying yet another approach. With nowhere left to go but up, Beckham went back to square one over the offseason. “I checked my ego at the door and worked on my swing as though I was a child; I basically relearned everything.”

He did so with the help of his father-in-law.

“He played 15 years in the big leagues,” Beckham said of Scott Fletcher, who is now a hitting coach in the Detroit Tigers system. “I was joking with him that I’m about to have the best six years of my life to catch him. That’s how I’m approaching things. I want to keep it going for a long time, and I honestly feel that the best is yet to come. I really do. I think I’m going to make this team.”

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Corbin Burnes is unlikely to break camp with the Brewers, but given what he did last year in his first full professional season, it’s only a matter of time. The right-hander out of St. Mary’s College logged a 0.954 WHIP and a 1.85 ERA in 145-and-two-thirds innings between high-A Carolina and Double-A Biloxi. Based on those stud-like numbers and his plus stuff, prospect guru Eric Longenhagen ranked Burnes as the top pitching prospect in the Milwaukee system.

The 2016 fourth-round pick is in his first big-league camp, where he’s “picking people’s brains and trying to show everyone that I can pitch.” He cited a pair of wily veterans when I asked whose craniums he’s been tapping into.

“I’ve talked to Oliver Drake a lot,” Burnes told me last week. “We throw similar changeups, so that’s one thing we’ve kind of bounced ideas back and forth on. I’ve also talked to Chase Anderson quite a bit. He’s kind of taken me under his wing. A lot of it has been about the experience of being in camp. It’s been a good adjustment so far.”

As for the rapidity of which he’s been ascending the minor-league ladder, the 23-year-old Bakersfield, California native doesn’t lack for confidence.

“This was kind of the goal I had set for myself coming out of college,” said Burnes. “You want to get through the system as fast as you can, so as soon as I got drafted I hit the ground running. I’ve made some adjustments, and hopefully at some point of the season I can help the big club.”

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Fielding a question about one of the talented-yet-erratic young arms in Cubs camp, Joe Maddon segued into how ironing out a delivery only goes so far. When push comes to shove, emotion affects command.

“A lot of times if a guy is not throwing strikes… the breath might not be where it needs to be,” opined the erudite skipper. “I don’t necessarily believe it’s always mechanics. I think mechanics are impacted by whether you’re breathing or not.

“If you’re not out there in control of your emotions, I don’t care how much work you’ve done mechanically. If you’re not in control of your emotions, your mind starts working too quickly, then your body starts working too quickly, and the body is probably ahead of the arm. And whenever you get too quick, you don’t see nearly as well. You can’t see with the fine-tuned vision that you need.”

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The mental side of the game came to the fore when I asked Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price for examples of players he’s especially looking forward to seeing in camp this spring.

“There are several, but I’ll name Cody Reed and Amir Garrett,” Price told me on Cactus League Media Day, which was held in late February. “These are two kids, two left-handed pitchers, that we really like. They’re coming off tough seasons, and we think they’re going to bounce back. They’ve made some necessary changes and have looked really good early in spring training.”

I asked Price what those “necessary changes” are.

“They’re partially mechanical but part of it is attitude,”explained the former pitching coach. “There is so much disappointment that goes with going from the major leagues back to the minor leagues. How well you handle the frustration is quite often what drives your ability to succeed your way back. Sometimes the mental side transitions into the physical side. Both kids are great workers, and I think they’ll impact our ball club this year.”

Dylan Floro’s name also came up in our conversation. Price noted that while the 27-year-old former Cubs and Rays right-hander has primarily been a sinker-slider pitcher, the Reds like his changeup and want him to incorporate more of them into his mix. Floro finished last season with the Dodgers Tripe-A affiliate and was signed by Cincinnati over the offseason.

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Cincinnati’s plan to move top prospect Nick Senzel from third base to shortstop is atypical, as players typically move down, not up, the defensive spectrum. But it’s not as though Senzel is unfamiliar with the position. He played shortstop in high school, and when he moved back there temporarily in his junior year at the University of Tennessee he was anything but a liability. Volunteers head coach Dave Serrano told Baseball America that Senzel “probably could have been an everyday shortstop; (he was) as good a defensive shortstop as we could have had.”

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When Garrett Richards met with the media following his spring-training outing last Sunday, I (apparently) misheard something he’d just said in a TV interview. As a result, I asked the Angels right-hander if working up in the zone had been part of his game plan.

“Not all,” replied Richards. “My ball kind of flattens out up in the zone. I rely on the movement of my ball. My ball cuts and sinks, so with my fastball I’m really just trying to throw the ball down the middle and let it work whichever way it works. Just catching a lot of plate, throwing a lot of strikes. trying not to be too fine. Working ahead in the count is really my major, No. 1 goal.”

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Sticking with the Angels, I asked Mike Scioscia if he’d consider using any of his starters in relief on their bullpen days if the team goes with a six-man rotation.

“That’s an extreme circumstance,” responded the Los Angeles skipper. “Our goal is to have our bullpen set up to where there’s enough length to not have to do that. Last year we had to a couple times, but for the most part you try to work your way around it. Some guys would have that ability, although that’s an outlier. We don’t really want to factor that in.”

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Matt Bush and Mike Minor — both of whom spent all of last season as relievers — are being earmarked for the Texas Rangers starting rotation. According to Jeff Banister, the move has precedent, and plenty of it.

“It happened for generations,” explained the Rangers skipper. “Guys would come up to the big leagues and they’d be relievers first, then they’d become starters. It actually happened recently with the St. Louis Cardinals. Adam Wainwright was closer for them in the one playoff year (2006) and the next year he was a starter. There’s something to that.”

Wainwright (in the minors) and Minor were starters prior to their respective one-year residencies in the bullpen. Bush’s acclimation will be different. All of his 115 big-league appearances have come as a reliever, and his lone professional start was a two-inning stint in 2010.

“We obviously looked into the data,” said Banister. “The innings and how many they’re going to be able to increase that to. We paid attention to that. It tells a story about down the road, so we’re definitely going to be monitoring it.”

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Tim Lincecum trained at Driveline before getting signed by the Texas Rangers earlier this week, and Trevor Bauer has been working out there for years. According to Chicago White Sox infield prospect Max Dutto, the presence of such big-league luminaries makes the prestigious Seattle-area facility even more appealing than it otherwise would be.

“That’s one of the main selling points of Driveline,” said Dutto, who has scuffled with the bat since being taken in the ninth round of the 2016 draft. “For me, it was a no-brainer to make serious adjustments, and I’m getting to put them to the test against a two-time Cy Young award winner (Lincecum), and against Trevor Bauer, who could win a Cy Young at any point. I’m getting better every day, and here you’re able to see how you’re getting better. It’s an ideal environment for training.”

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Anthony Bass spent the 2016 season with the Nippon Ham Fighters, so I asked the 30-year-old right-hander which player not named Shohei Ohtani most impressed him during his year in Japan. He went with Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada.

“He had some of the quickest hands of any Japanese player I faced,” said Bass, who is in camp with the Chicago Cubs. “Normally, when I faced a Japanese player I could throw my fastball inside and they’d swing and miss, foul it off, or maybe break their bat. What impressed me about Yamada was that he was able to keep his hands inside the ball and hook it down the line for a double.”

Why did most NPB hitters have trouble handling his inside offerings?

“Most of the Japanese guys are good at hitting the ball away from them,” Bass explained. “They can slap it the other way. But this guy… and he’s got some power, too. He can do some damage on the pitch inside, as well the pitch away. He was a difficult out for me.”

The 25-year-old Yamada has encountered a few difficulties of his own since Bass returned stateside. After putting up an OPS north of 1.000 in both 2015 and 2016, the Swallows slugger slumped to the tune of .247/.364/.435 last season. His wallet has taken a hit, as well. In December, Yamada reportedly accepted a ¥70 million pay cut.

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NEWSY STUFF

Baseball Musings, one of baseball’s longest-running blogs, is holding its annual pledge drive. Created and run by David Pinto, Baseball Musings has been informing fans since March 2002. They deserve your support.

Fred Lynn and longtime executive Mike Tamburro have been elected into the Pawtucket Red Sox Hall of Fame. Lynn played with the PawSox in 1974 before becoming a nine-time American League all-star. Tamburro has been with the Triple-A franchise since 1977 and is already a member of the International League Hall of Fame.

SABR’s Women in Baseball Committee announced that Perry Barber has been selected as winner of the inaugural Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award. Barber has been a professional umpire since 1981.

Last month, longtime Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth announced that he won’t be returning for what would have been his 37th season. This past week, news came out that Howarth’s sidekick for each the past four years won’t be returning to the radio booth either. Fortunately for Jays fans, he’ll still be around. Joe Siddall has been hired as the new television analyst for the Blue Jays’ pre- and post-game shows. Replacements for what had been one of baseball’s best broadcast teams have yet to be named.

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The Red Sox have officially petitioned the city of Boston to change the name of the street fronting Fenway Park. Originally Jersey Street, it was renamed Yawkey Way in 1977 to honor the man who owned the team from 1933 to 1976. Inclusion is at the heart of the matter. Under Tom Yawkey’s stewardship, the Red Sox were the last team to integrate — a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier — and racial issues of varying degrees continued for years thereafter. For that reason, it makes sense for current ownership to distance itself from the Yawkey name.

Baseball (and Red Sox) historian Bill Nowlin questions whether it actually does. In his opinion, while “removing Yawkey’s name from the street can provide momentary satisfaction at having struck a symbolic blow against racism,” doing so may not be entirely fair to the late owner’s legacy.

“Yawkey himself declined opportunities to have his name on things during his lifetime,” Nowlin told me via email. “The Red Sox were the last team to field an African American ballplayer, but in working on my 500-plus page biography Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox I looked for any evidence that Yawkey was personally racist and could never find any.

“Many black ballplayers on the Red Sox found Yawkey to be very welcoming. Sportswriter Howard Bryant, in his book on race and the Red Sox (Shut Out) doesn’t declare Yawkey a racist; instead, he writes of the owner’s ‘indifference to integration.’”

Nowlin’s reasoning has validity, but it falls short of a credible defense. Yawkey may not have been overtly racist, but he was certainly culpable. Had he not turned his head, the Red Sox reportedly could have signed Robinson and Willie Mays. Had that happened, Red Sox history — and the reputation of the city of Boston — would be far different.

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Quiz time. Who was the first relief pitcher to be named MVP in either league? The answer can be found below.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCH-UPS

Stan “Happy Rabbit” Rojek went 4 for 52 against Howie Fox.

Chicken Hawks went 7 for 11 against Flint Rhem.

Skeeter Webb went 3 for 27 against Dizzy Trout.

Catfish Hunter went 1 for 4 against Mudcat Grant.

Catfish Metkovich went 1 for 5 against Cuddles Marshall.

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Jim Konstanty was a hard-luck loser in the first game of the 1950 World Series; the Phillies right-hander allowed just four hit over eight innings in a 1-0 loss to the Yankees. Somewhat remarkably, it was his only start all year. During the regular season, Konstanty came out of the bullpen 72 times — he finished 62 of those games — and was credited with 16 wins and 22 saves.

He wasn’t used like a modern-day closer. While Konstanty did get half of his saves in stints of one inning or less, he earned wins in games where he pitched five, nine, and ten innings. His uniqueness was rewarded. In an era that championed complete games, Konstanty became the first reliever to garner MVP honors.

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Reading Dan Epstein’s Big Hair and Plastic Grass: a Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s, I learned that Bowie Kuhn wasn’t on hand when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in April 1974. Where was the then-commissioner when “Hammering Hank” hit number 715? He was in Cleveland, speaking at an event held by the Wahoo Club.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At MLB.com, A.J. Cassavell wrote about how NBA legend Ralph Sampson — all 7-foot-4 of him — is assisting at Padres camp.

Red Sox pitching prospect Jay Groome thought he was getting pranked when he received an offseason text from an unknown number, and the next thing he knew he was doing Pilates with Chris Sale. Jen McCaffrey has the story at MassLive.

Over at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Derrick Goold wrote about how Colby Rasmus is back to riding the roller coaster after stepping away to spend more time with his wife and cows.

The Phillies had a quantitative analyst in the dugout, in uniform, during a spring training game. Todd Zolecki has the details at MLB.com.

At Zone Coverage, Brandon Warne gave a rundown of defensive anomalies in Twins history, including Rod Carew playing left field, Kent Hrbek playing third base, and Kirby Puckett playing shortstop.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Chicago Cubs will begin the regular season with 10 road games. The last time they opened with that many away from the friendly confines was 1899.

Jack Morris is the only pitcher with at least 2,000 strikeouts to have never had another pitcher come to the plate against him in a regular-season game.

Chase Utley has reached base 199 times via HPB. That’s the most among active players.

In 1974, Don Money handled 472 chances at third base and was charged with five errors. In 1993, Gary Sheffield handled 338 chances at third base and was charged with 34 errors.

In 1910, Detroit’s Ty Cobb hit .383/.456/.551. That same year, Patsy Dougherty led White Sox hitters in all three categories, slashing .248/.318/.300.

On March 6, 1973, Minnesota’s Larry Hisle became the first designated hitter in MLB history when he stepped into the batter’s box in a spring training game against the Pirates.

On this date in 1973, Yankees pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson announced that they have traded wives. Their children were also involved in the deal.

A reminder that the SABR Analytics Conference will be held March 9-11 at the?Hyatt Regency, in Phoenix, Arizona.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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MikeSmember
4 years ago

It has been a few years, but I seem to remember that Gordon Beckham always hit well in spring training with the White Sox. I think he is just the prototypical 4A player. Based on last year, he might not even be that anymore.