GLENDALE, Ariz. — The traditional model of handling first-round picks entering their first full seasons typically begins with an assignment in Class A, a nice and necessary feeder before prospects get sent into the teeth of the high minors.
However, when it comes to shortstop Gordon Beckham, there is apparently no need to wait.
Confident that he can handle an advanced league, particularly after his impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, the White Sox will not tug on Beckham’s reins and instead are targeting Double-A Birmingham as a 2009 starting point.
Which, as might be expected of someone with his pedigree, is hardly a worrisome assignment for last year’s eighth overall pick, a player who commanded a $2.6 million signing bonus and was among the most polished players in last June’s amateur entry.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge difference considering I played in the fall league and I played in the big league camp and did OK,” Beckham said Friday at the White Sox’s plush Camelback Ranch facility. “I think that experience is going to help me a lot in Birmingham.”
Nevertheless, Beckham has been on a whirlwind jaunt through the minors in the past eight months.
Beckham signed two days before the Aug. 15 deadline and then caught up with low Class A Kannapolis when other first-round picks were still finalizing contract negotiations.
From there, the former Georgia Bulldog sneaked in 58 at-bats and then hit .310/.365/.500 with three home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs.
His stats in the Arizona Fall League? Try an impressive .394/.468/.652 with three home runs, six doubles and 13 RBIs in 66 at-bats. He also struck out 14 times but drew eight walks.
But the biggest question is whether Beckham will remain a shortstop, and a tour through the Southern League should at least shed some light. The speed of the game will be much faster, the margin for error much more minute.
On Friday, a morning defensive drill offered some insight.
Designed to test reactions in mock game situations, Beckham, not considered to have the softest of hands, was smooth on several plays. At one point, an in-between hopper forced him to charge in but tied up his hands, with the ball ricocheting into shallow left.
Yet moments later on a ball well to his right, he hustled to the necessary spot, angled his glove hand correctly toward the dirt and backhanded the grounder. With a quick and clean transition, he then delivered a strong, accurate throw to first baseman Brandon Allen.
That was notable. Beckham and the White Sox have placed an emphasis on the backhand play this spring.
“It’s just one of those things. I feel like I have too much of a stiff arm,” Beckham said. “I need to be loose with it. It’s just something small that will help me out.”
Overall, it’s been an exciting spring for Beckham, who before being reassigned to minor league camp on Wednesday got in 37 at-bats in Cactus League exhibition games.
He brought over a .325/.270/.568 line (10-for-37) with two home runs, five doubles, six RBIs and 21 total bases and also came over with strict orders from Greg Walker, the big league hitting coach.
“When I came down, he said, ‘If you change anything about your swing, I’m going to come down and hurt you,’” Beckham said, smiling of course.
And that’s the thing. Beckham is enjoying his time and, believe it or not, sees plenty of potential positives now that he’s just like all of his new locker mates—a minor leaguer.
“I’ve got to pay my dues, too. I’ve just got to work hard,” Beckham said. "But I’ve got a lot of friends down here, so it’s a little bit easier to fit in. I’m going to push myself to be an everyday big leaguer.”