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Beckham brings new stance, comfort to 2013

Beckham brings new stance, comfort to 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Gordon Beckham stands in front of his locker at Camelback Ranch and tries to put into words the small changes he has made in his batting stance.

To further illustrate the point, the White Sox's second baseman picks up a bat and provides a physical demonstration.

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"Part of what I'm doing is starting here, laying my bat off a little bit, just as a starting point and then getting into the position I want to go hit," Beckham said. "It just kind of reminds me of what I'm trying to do."

Even the casual observer who only watched the second baseman in action for a handful of games last year will notice a change in Beckham's batting stance through his first two Cactus League appearances. The crouch that Beckham employed at the end of 2012, when he really felt like a corner was turned offensively, has returned.

But Beckham now has a Cal Ripken-esque look at the start of his at-bat, with the bat flat over the shoulders before being moved straight up as the pitcher delivers. As Beckham tried to explain, it basically takes him more directly from Point A to Point B in the swing, eliminating an unnecessary middle stop.

There's more involved than just this tweak, though. Beckham put a great deal of work into his grip during the offseason months, per advice from the organization's higher-ups.

"It was an unusual situation where when we looked at him and thought, 'Where would we start first?' The unusual part is collectively, we said we would change his top hand," said White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto of Beckham. "That's unheard of. He has such a strong grip, and like an overgrip, I guess. I don't know what you would call it on his top hand. I've never seen anything like this.

"That's what evolved. So, he changed that. We had mentioned to him pay attention to this, and he came back and it's great."

How he holds the bat in his hands actually has made a ton of difference in Beckham's mind. The minor changes, added on to the crouch, have brought about greater comfort.

"If I can go from A to B like that, that's good. If I go A to B to C, it's more work," said Beckham, as he continued to show off the important nuances of his swing. "I've basically kept the same stance and integrated that in.

"I think part of the reason there was a lot of inaccuracy sometimes last year is because there was one more step to get it through the zone. You are not able to be direct and drive balls. You are going to see a lot of balls [slice] and a lot of balls [hook]," said Beckham, using his hand to illustrate the wrong-way path of the baseball. "I just wanted to kind of eliminate that and become very direct with my hands, and that way I can really backspin in both the left-center and right-center gap."

Changes were put in place before by Beckham, 26, both of the physical and mental variety, and they haven't always paid huge dividends. He comes into his fifth Major League season looking for the numbers on offense he posted in Year 1.

Strides were made last year via his career-high 16 homers and 60 RBIs, but both Beckham and the White Sox would like to see a rise in that .234 average that bumps up to .245 for his career. Some believe Beckham was brought up to soon back in 2009, not so much in a case that he wasn't ready but more so that he never really learned how to fail until reaching the Majors.

Through the struggles, Beckham has persevered and seemed to grow stronger as a Major Leaguer. He enters 2013 on the proverbial hot seat, with free-agent acquisition Jeff Keppinger able to move to second and highly-touted prospect Carlos Sanchez waiting at Triple-A Charlotte.

Beckham also enters the 2013 season with more than an improved variation of his swing to enhance his game.

"Even in [batting practice], there's a plan to it," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Beckham. "At points last year, it was just going up there and not really necessarily having that plan every time. Right now, it looks comfortable."

"All that mechanical mumbo jumbo, what it comes down to is his hands are more direct, his bat path is cleaner, and we are seeing the results of it with the ball flight," Manto said. "Again, like any other hitter, he has to be short to the ball, and he is right now. The one thing we are working on is making sure he keeps his stride intact. It doesn't get too long and out of shape. Right now, he looks dynamite."

While Beckham's struggles with the bat have been well documented, his defense at second has been Gold Glove Award-caliber. Beckham didn't need to break out any props from his locker to explain that point.

"He's the best second baseman that I've seen," said White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, through translator and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "He has that confidence. In playing with him, I feed off that confidence. You could see it right away in how he plays second base."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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