However, he's no longer the White Sox' second baseman by default. Marcus Semien has seen to that.
This is the most adversity Beckham has faced in his career, but it could be worse. Even after Wednesday's decisive grand slam, Semien is only hitting .234/.280/.394, with 28 strikeouts over 100 plate appearances. Had he started out with Tyler Flowers' BABIP, Beckham's return might be seen as a gross injustice. Instead, it only registers as "kinda sucks." If and when Semien returns to Charlotte, he'll specifically know how MLB pitchers attack him, and he can work on shoring up the contact part of his game.
But make no mistake -- if Beckham's timetable resembled Jeff Keppinger's, nobody would have any issue with Semien playing every day, because he's shown enough to keep the faith. The game has put him on the ropes at several points over the first three weeks of the season, but he punched his way back in each time, with three memorable shots in particular.
Semien's control of the plate may look like a map of the Korean War before the Incheon Landing, but he's made up some of the deficit with surprising pop. The run-production numbers certainly give Semien an edge over Beckham, in terms of potential high-fives exchanged:
- Semien in 2014: 100 PA, 3 HR, 13 RBI
- Beckham in 2013: 408 PA, 5 HR, 24 RBI
Semien's also shown an acceptable glove, and it could be better than that, since we're not used to all this shifting. Add it all up, and he's given Sox fans and brass reasons to want to see more of him.
That's exciting and new, because Beckham's competition failed to compete time and time again before this season. To review:
2010: The Sox entered the season with Omar Vizquel as the middle-infield backup, but he took over third when Mark Teahen broke his finger and played surprisingly well. Brent Lillibridge received the call from Charlotte to take the bench spot, and he struck out 12 times for every walk, so he wasn't a factor.
2011: Vizquel returned to his bench role, and he also returned to acting his age (44). Lillibridge had a really fun season, but he turned out to be a better outfield than infielder, so Beckham's playing time went unthreatened.
2012: Orlando Hudson, Eduardo Escobar, Ray Olmedo. Nope, traded, nope.
2013: Beckham broke his hamate in April, which gave the Sox a big window to audition replacements. Keppinger responded by hitting .250/.256/.293, and Tyler Greene was the next-best option behind him.
Despite Beckham falling short of expectations, the Sox had every reason to keep playing him and hope that he'd finally turn the corner, instead of splitting his head open on it.
This year is different. Semien may not be better than Aggregate Beckham: The Best of Gordon Beckham 2010-2013 at this moment, but there's reason to believe he could get there before the end of the season, without the price tag or the baggage.
(Morever, if Semien hits the same wall, Micah Johnson isn't far behind. His defense is a question mark, but he's doing all he can to remove doubt about his offensive skill set, hitting .342/.444/.487 in his first 20 games at Birmingham.)
We can't even be sure if 2014 Beckham can clear the bar he lowered. He hit just .163/.234/.279 during his rehab stint with the Barons, and while those numbers are akin to spring training stats in terms of significance, there's no evidence that he can flip a switch. He'll have to find it this time, because there's now a very clear and present alternative.
Robin Ventura gave Semien every opportunity to prove himself unworthy of such immediate consideration by batting him in the top two spots -- a league-leading amount of opportunities, in fact. Semien had his share of rough nights and frustrating walks to the dugout, but he showed his mettle with some big damn hits, too. I don't think we can definitively say that he passed his trial by fire, but he didn't fail it, either. Now, it's Beckham's turn to take the stand.