As the August waiver trade deadline passes and Angels faithful everywhere are questioning why Bartolo Colon isn’t with the team (answer: money), let’s discuss the player the Halos did pick up.
Meet Gordon Beckham. For many baseball spectators, the Atlanta native serves as a reminder that there is no such thing as a sure thing in this sport. Beckham led the NCAA in home runs in his junior year, breaking a University of Georgia record with 28, before getting selected eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox in the 2008 draft.
From 2008-2009, the infielder hastily escalated through the minors, playing a grand total of 59 games–14 in Low-A, 38 in Double-A, and seven in Triple-A–before getting a mid-season promotion to The Show.
Less than one year had passed between getting drafted and making his big league debut. Prior to getting called up, Baseball America pegged him as Chicago’s #1 ranked prospect and #20 league-wide. He was about as “can’t miss” as prospects come.
His first season in the majors looked very promising, batting .270 with a .808 OPS and 14 home runs in 103 games (430 plate appearances). But he took an inexplicable nosedive in just about every offensive category for every year to follow, eventually plummeting to the .220/.265./.337 slash line of today.
He did maintain an above average glove throughout his career, playing exclusively third base in his first season and mostly second base (with some work in shortstop) in every year after. But considering it was his offensive prowess that made him such a highly touted prospect, it’s not hard to see why his production was viewed as disappointing.
When the White Sox put him on waivers and the Angels claimed him, many Angel fans were left scratching their heads. It’s not that the PTBNL or cash considerations would be dearly missed, but it was unclear as to what role Beckham would have with the team.
The immediate idea is that Beckham actually makes a serviceable platoon option, putting up a .286/.336/.419 slash line against left-handed pitching.
But let’s look further down the line. Fellow utility infielder John McDonald is a savvy defender, but with a .159/.244/.174 slash line, he really hasn’t been effective at the plate since… ever, really (his career OBP is .273). But more importantly, being that he turns 40 this month and is only signed until the end of the year, one can assume the Angels would have had to pursue another infielder in the off-season anyways. Problem solved.
Let’s look even further down the line. In Beckham’s 48 innings as an Angel, 36 of them were at third base. Both he and third baseman David Freese are under team control until the end of 2015. For all intents and purposes, Beckham and Freese may very well spend next season competing for the position heading into their free agencies. Freese has the lead now, but with another season for Beckham to prove his worth, this will look much more like a marathon than a sprint.
Beckham is a low-risk, high-reward acquisition. It’s true that he’s having his worst season at the plate. His meager 4.7% walk-rate is the 14th worst in the majors. It’s also worth noting that it’s only his sixth season in the big leagues. And if it means anything, White Sox GM Rick Hahn seems to believe that a change of scenery will help him fulfill his potential.
Worst case scenario? Beckham spends his duration with the Angels as a backup. But at the age of 27, you can bet he will be doing everything within his power to make sure his rookie season does not go down as the peak of his career.