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Maturing Beckham could be primed for breakout

Maturing Beckham could be primed for breakout

CHICAGO -- Trade rumors have circled around Gordon Beckham pretty much since the offseason following his first full Major League campaign back in 2010.

About the only difference now is that Beckham doesn't stand as quite the untouchable he was considered some four years ago.

That idea doesn't have as much to do with Beckham's play as it does with the White Sox coming off a 99-loss 2013 season and pretty much listening to offers concerning any of their players as the reshaping process takes form. To be honest, it's not a topic where the 27-year-old second baseman places much thought.

For openers, Beckham is getting married this weekend, so the impending celebration of his nuptials supersedes any baseball commentary in the short term. Beckham also is situated in the best position to succeed since 2009, when he won the Players Choice Award for Rookie of the Year in the American League.

This story seemingly has become an annual one, where Beckham struggles to some extent and then talks about his encouragement going into the ensuing season. But Beckham's less frequent offensive misfires last year were brought about primarily by a fractured hamate bone in his left wrist, a second, unrelated left wrist problem after the All-Star break and a strained right quad that plagued him for the final six weeks.

If Beckham stays healthy in '14, the learning process brought about by past struggles could have him primed for that expected breakout campaign.

"You can't ever assume that it's just going to be good from here on out," Beckham told MLB.com during an end-of-season interview. "I definitely feel like I understand my swing better, I understand what it takes to be a big league baseball everyday player. I'll just keep progressing on that.

"What I've learned is pretty simple: It's just go play the game and let everything else take care of itself. You have to stay even keel. You can't live on the highs and the lows so much.

"As much as you want to in terms of the highs, you just can't," Beckham said. "You have to show up to play, and play every day like it's the first day of the season, and it's easier said than done."

Over 371 at-bats last season, Beckham hit .267 with an on-base percentage of .322, five homers and 24 RBIs. He missed time from April 10 to June 2 because of that hamate bone injury and hit just .240 in August and .210 in September/October as the quad malady took hold.

His offensive approach, featuring more of a crouch at the plate, has been consistent since the end of '12, with Beckham not changing what he's doing because of a rough patch. Now the results simply have to match the most comfortable Beckham has felt since joining the White Sox on June 4, 2009.

Of course, Beckham is a different person than he was as a rookie.

"Yeah, I think so," said Beckham when asked about his personal changes over the years. "I had a couple of years where I really scuffled. But I feel like I've kind of come full circle, kind of back to the player I was with a lot more knowledge.

"Definitely, that's a good thing. You have to go through some bad to understand how good doing well is. You know, I've definitely, I've run the gamut. I've played through it, so it can always happen again."

As MLB.com reported last week, the Toronto Blue Jays have interest in Beckham as they push for the 2014 playoffs and beyond. Beckham could help the White Sox as part of a trade that returns younger talent to strengthen the team's core, but making a rather safe assumption that Beckham stays, he would step into a leadership role.

Even if there is one more year in Chicago for Paul Konerko, the team's captain and a significant mentor to Beckham, the second baseman's White Sox tenure ranks only behind Konerko, Alexei Ramirez and John Danks. Having the spotlight pushed upon him in '09 has helped Beckham get a grip on that same front-and-center locale entering '14, not to mention studying how Konerko handled his role.

"I've been talking and learning from Paul for the last three of four years pretty much every day," Beckham said. "I feel like he's equipping me with the tools that I'm going to need to do that. But yeah, it's kind of funny that even though when I was younger, that's what I wanted. Now I understand what that takes.

"It's not just something to go out there and say, 'Hey, you are going to be a leader on this team.' You have to go out and earn it, and you have to be around long enough to understand how the game goes and be a positive influence on your younger teammates as well as your older teammates and keep bringing people up and never put people down. That's what being a leader is. It's always staying on top of things."

Staying on top of things could help Beckham play a central role in the White Sox return to competitiveness and start to cement his White Sox legacy. Beckham focuses upon practicing what he has learned.

"I don't want to play this game to be some sort of outside celebrity," Beckham said. "I want to be a baseball player and have people say that, whenever my career is over, 'He played the game the right way. He was a baseball player.'

"That's the biggest compliment anybody could give me. Hopefully, that's a long time from now. I don't need anything else besides the fact that people see I tried to do it the right way."

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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