As one of the few remaining passengers, I can tell you there's certainly plenty of room. In the offseason, people were suggesting that Gordon Beckham would be non-tendered next offseason. When he got off to yet another slow start this season, calls for his head were rampant. With the team winning, and Beckham playing respectably of late, those calls have died down and have been re-directed towards easier targets, like Brent Morel, Kosuke Fukudome, Orlando Hudson and Brent Lillibridge.
All it will take, though, is another slump for them to come back. And perhaps justifiably so, considering he doesn't have a track record to fallback on like his currently well below replacement level double play partner.
But remember three years ago, when he was a 22 year old full of promise and labeled (tongue firmly in cheek) "The Savior"? Remember when, after a three week adjustment period, he looked rather similar to a major league baseball player for three and a half months? Whatever happened to that guy?That guy had scouting reports like this:
The Good: Beckham has the rare potential to become a middle-of-the-order run producer who also plays in the middle of the infield. He has a pro's understanding of the strike zone, a quick bat, and at least average power coming out of his smallish frame, with one scout calling him a right-handed Chase Utley. Beyond the tools, he's a max-effort gamer with great defensive instincts and a knack for coming through in key situations.
The Bad: Scouts have issues with where Beckham will ultimately fit defensively. He's an average-at-best runner who falls just short of big-league range, and he'll likely need to move to second base by the time he's ready, although that opinion is hardly universally held.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a shortstop with a good batting average, high on-base percentage, and 20-25 home runs annually.
Glass Half Empty: A second baseman with merely good offensive value.
Strengths: Hitting will be Beckham's ticket to the big leagues. He doesn't have a classic stroke but has strong forearms and quick wrists, generating impressive bat speed. Though he isn't built like a power hitter, he centers the ball well and the ball jumps off his bat. He led the Cape Cod League with nine homers in 2007, suggesting that his power comes from more than a metal bat. He's willing to use the entire field and was well coached at Georgia, developing a strong knowledge of the strike zone and a willingness to walk. He has unusual pitch recognition for a young hitter. A good athlete, Beckham has average speed and the arm and instincts to stick at shortstop. His game has drawn comparisons to Michael Young's. He also has strong makeup and says his goal is "to lead the White Sox one day the way Derek Jeter leads the Yankees."
Weaknesses: The biggest question with Beckham is whether he'll remain at shortstop. Before the draft, scouts were split on his defensive ability, but the White Sox believe he can stay there. His hands aren't the softest, and he'll have to work to get smoother at fielding grounders. Though he moves well, he doesn't project as much of a basestealer.
Chase Utley and Michael Young comps, eh. Probably sounds ridiculous to you now. But, then, neither of those players were actually anything to write home about until their age 26 seasons. We'll get back to that, though.
First, it's notable that there wasn't much question about his bat. It's amusing now to read about his understanding of the strike zone and how he centers the ball well - these guys sure suckered you into hitching a ride on the Beckham bandwagon. Of course, there are other things that have been evident in his career: no basestealing and the move to second base.
Over the last month or so, he's stopped looking like a lost child at the plate and started looking like a major league baseball player again. Whether cause or effect, he's been more aggressive at the plate. That's probably why his walk rate has plummeted as his batting average and slugging percentage have risen. Still, though, he doesn't look like that guy whose ceiling was described in those scouting reports.
And that's okay. That "Glass Half Empty" projection of Kevin Goldstein - "A second baseman with merely good offensive value" - isn't a bad thing. It's also something that Beckham still approach. Those offensive tools described - bat speed, power - are still there. It's not like he lost his talent.
He just lost his approach. There are those who will tell you that was a mental problem. Others will tell you that he just wasn't that good in the first place and major league pitchers exposed it. It's probably a combination of those and more.
So now let's get back to Utley and Young. Beckham was drafted in 2008 and is now 25 years old. When you look at his draft class colleagues, Beckham looks like one of the few successes because he's actually done something in the majors. The only real star from that first round is Buster Posey. Brett Lawrie may have racked up some serious WAR last season, but he's struggling this season. There are guys from later rounds (notably the 5th round, which is looking quite good with Daniel Hudson and Alex Avila). And obviously there are other guys who will emerge. But that's sort of the point.
Beckham seems like he's been around forever because he has been. But the vast majority of guys he started out with are just now arriving and trying to establish themselves. Just on the White Sox, Jordan Danks is older than Beckham. Jason Kipnis was a collegiate junior, just like Beckham was.
This is obviously the cue for those who argue that Beckham stunk because he was rushed and that stunted his development to the point that he'll never be able to develop into a decent player. That first part is unknowable without visiting an alternate reality and, anyway, borders on the irrelevant at this point. And I don't buy the second part.
I think there are ways to ruin a player's development. And rushing a player can be one of those. But it's pretty damn hard to destroy talent, particularly in a non-pitcher, and talent has a propensity to come out when matched with the right makeup.
Beckham is a guy with superior makeup. While he often looked defeated at the plate, he didn't carry around that look with him everywhere. His lack of offensive success the past couple seasons doesn't seem to have beat him down to the point where he's given up. The fact that he has done something in the last month or so to get himself hitting respectably attests to that.
It's unlikely we're ever going to see Beckham be the guy who hits .285/.385/.500. So, in that sense, those Chase Utley and even Michael Young comps aren't going to come true. But he still can achieve the same development curve that those guys did, and many of the guys drafted in 2008 will do.
Is a .265/.330/.420 guy someone who deserves a bandwagon? Probably not. But I'm going to stick this one out a little longer.