Beckham has renewed confidence heading into 2012

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Beckham has renewed confidence heading into 2012

By Jim Owczarski
CSNChicago.com

It started with a few flips the first week of December.

The ball would hang for a moment, be gone in blink.

Flip, blink, flip.

If you feel it, you know it.

Gordon Beckham felt it. More importantly, he knew it.

Its back.

The eighth overall pick of the 2008 Major League Baseball amateur draft made his debut 364 days later following a whirlwind minor league career that took him from Kannapolis to Charlotte in 52 games and from Charlotte to Chicago in just seven more. He hit .322 with 25 doubles and seven home runs in the minors, with an OPS of .894.

We just monitored him, said Jeff Manto, the White Sox minor league hitting coordinator at the time. He was in such a good place when we got him. He didnt need anything.

Beckham was sure, confident.

He had it.

The 22-year-old was fresh out of the University of Georgia where he finished up his junior season hitting over .400 with a school record for home runs and total bases. In three years with the Bulldogs, he had struck out just 120 times.

He burst onto the scene playing a new position with the White Sox -- third base -- and was a leading candidate for American League Rookie of the Year despite missing the first two months of the season. He finished his rookie campaign hitting .270 with 14 home runs and 28 doubles. The future was bright.

Somewhere along the line, however, he began to lose it.

The 2011 season ended with Beckham going hitless in eight of his final 12 games, finishing the last two months hitting .198 with 40 strikeouts.

He found himself behind in the count in 211 of his 499 at bats and struck out 111 times. He hit just .230 on the season with a .296 on base percentage and .633 OPS.

It was gone.

He packed up his things.

The Sox had missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, and it seemed as if the 24-year-old phenom, who was once deemed untouchable in trade talks, was now at a career crossroads.

I dont ever want to feel that way again, he said.

Fllp, blink, flip.

In December, Beckham rediscovered it.

He maintains his swing had never changed, that its too easy to just say hes going back to what worked for him at Georgia and in 2009. But somewhere between then and 2011, something broke down.

I had to be perfect, he said. Theres a million ways to describe that but I had to be perfect in my load and the way I hit and if it wasnt perfect, I didnt hit.

He placed no blame on former hitting coach Greg Walker. He put it all on his own shoulders, or more telling, his own head.

The reason I struggled last year was I swung at bad pitches, he said. What causes that? Well, thats caused from a little bit of uncertainty, a little bit of anxiety, trying to go up there and get a hit every time is not an easy thing to do.

Then the proverbial snowball began to roll.

I let it beat me down last year, Beckham said.

New Sox manager Robin Ventura could relate. He was a college star at Oklahoma State and spent just 129 games in the minor leagues before being called up in 1989. Only he collected just eight hits in his first 58 plate appearances. In 1990, he went 16 games without a hit at one point and didnt crack the Mendoza line for good until mid-June.

Kenny Williams knows where Beckham's coming from, too. The GM joked during Sox Fest his career was all downhill after his first major league plate appearance.

Hes a really talented kid, Ventura said of Beckham. I just want him to go play and not worry so much about whats expected of him and try to go to the plate and go 10-for-20 when all you can do is go to the plate, try and have a good at bat, and see what else happens.

Williams took it a step further, saying all he expected out of the now 25-year-old second baseman is to play to win, and to have fun. So much so he made the statement twice.

The success will be there at the end if he just lightens up a little bit on himself and it goes back to being a game, Williams said.

That positivity, along with Beckhams rediscovery taking mere flips in December, has helped him rediscover what was missing.

Legitimately, yes, he said. You dont usually think youre going to get something like that but yeah, absolutely (I found it). By the way the bat is coming through the zone, the way the bat is lagging. Obviously its just flips and were getting loose and stuff like that, its not 95 (miles per hour), but it will hold up. What Im doing now will hold up. It just feels like Im getting to the point where my bat is just flying through the zone in the right way.

Standing off stage following a seminar, Mantos eyes lit up when he heard of Beckhams renewed confidence, how he could just feel that it was right, that it was back.

Thats how I know Gordons minds right, said the new Sox hitting coach. Im a feel coach, Im a mental coach. Thats important to me and its important to the swing. I believe to get to the major league level, you have mechanics already. To hear Gordon think about the things we used to talk about in the minor leagues, its good that hes remembering those things.

Beckham exuded confidence at SoxFest, an air that reminded many but most importantly, himself of the player he was a few short years ago.

I lost a little confidence last year, but recently Ive really felt like myself, moreso than Ive ever felt like myself in the last two years, he said. I feel like Im back to being that confident guy that can really go out there and carry people sometimes when Im doing well. Im kind of back to that situation. I feel good about where Im at mentally. Physically I feel good. My swing is the thing its there.

You know it when you see it, and you can feel it and its there.

Beckham is confident again, mentally, and in his swing. Now, hes ready to show it.

White Sox pitching staff nearly complete with prospect Zack Burdi headed to Triple-A

White Sox pitching staff nearly complete with prospect Zack Burdi headed to Triple-A

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With Zack Burdi headed for the minors, the White Sox 12-man pitching staff is all but set.

The Opening Day roster won't be finalized until Sunday and the White Sox hypothetically could find an attractive candidate to claim off the waiver wire over the weekend. But barring that, it looks as if veteran Anthony Swarzak and second-year reliever Michael Ynoa have made the team after Burdi said Wednesday morning that he'd start the season at Triple-A Charlotte. 

The No. 7 prospect in the organization, according to MLBPipeline.com, Burdi finished the spring with a 6.75 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 12 innings. Burdi finished his Cactus League on a high note with three strikeouts over an inning on Tuesday, including one of Kansas City four-time All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. 

"Man, it's been crazy," Burdi said. "Coming in and being the young guy in the locker room and then just progressing and showing a little bit more (comfort) around the guys and the veterans and then just being able to pick their brains and go out every day and try to progress. You get to the innings and you are facing guys you've watched your last 10 years of your life. It has been crazy and definitely something I won't forget."

Burdi lasted the longest this spring out of the cache of highly-touted prospects the White Sox brought to big league camp. Prior to escaping a first-and-third, one-out jam Tuesday, Burdi looked like he would allow a run in a third straight game after a hot start to camp (he only allowed a run in one of his first 10 appearances). But Burdi battled back and struck out Perez on three pitches, one of two straight strikeouts to strand both runners.

Pitching coach Don Cooper has been impressed by Burdi throughout the spring. But he also wants to see the Louisville product continue to work on command in the minors.

"You can't not see his stuff," Cooper said. "Everybody gets excited when you see 99, 100, 101. But whether you throw it 101 or 83 like [Mark] Buehrle you have to throw it to the glove with command, change speeds and all that stuff. But he's a big part of our future going forward. He's one of the names."

Burdi said he plans to operate like he has already spring and not pay attention to any of the hype. Though he'd like to play in the majors, Burdi is excited to play alongside the likes of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer in Charlotte.

"Once you get a feel for all this stuff and you feel how cool it is to be in the locker room with all these guys and play with them, of course you want to get back up here," Burdi said. "But at the same time, a lot of my really good friends are on Charlotte and I couldn't be more excited to go down there and play with them and make the most of the season down there."

White Sox: Jose Quintana pleased with final warmup before Opening Day start

White Sox: Jose Quintana pleased with final warmup before Opening Day start

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana was pleased with his final warmup before Opening Day.

The White Sox Opening Day starter threw 48 pitches (30 strikes) against a Milwaukee Brewers minor league team at Camelback Ranch on Tuesday. Quintana allowed two hits, two runs (one earned), walked one and struck out three in three-plus innings. He next pitches at home on Monday against the Detroit Tigers.

"I finished my preparation on a high note," Quintana said. "I'm heading to the season with good energy and satisfied with all the worked and effort that I put in my preparation.

"I'm absolutely ready for the season to start."

A tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale on Tuesday suggested Quintana will start the season as a member of the White Sox despite myriad rumors. Nightengale noted that the Houston Astros refuse budge on what they're willing to pay for the 2016 All-Star. The White Sox have also held firm on their asking price and haven't been motivated by any of the offers they've received to move Quintana.

The team reduced the number of players still in camp to 34 on Tuesday with the trade of Peter Bourjos and by cutting nonroster invitees Cory Luebke and Matt Purke. Luebke, who has been sidelined for six days after he tweaked his hamstring, finished the spring with a 0.96 ERA in 9 1/3 innings. He can opt out of his minor-league deal in May. Purke struck out eight in eight innings and finished with a 2.25 ERA. 

Both had been in the mix for one of two open bullpen spots.

Fellow reliever Jake Petricka looked much calmer on Tuesday than he did after taking a comebacker off his hand Monday. X-rays were negative and Petricka played catch. He hopes to pitch as scheduled this weekend in Milwaukee. 

"This is just one of those you do everything you can do to stay healthy, and its part of the game you can't control," Petricka said. "You never want that to happen, especially this late in camp. "But we dodged a bullet and we're good to go."

The White Sox also had a close call with second baseman Tyler Saladino, who was hit by a pitch in the left wrist in minor league action on Monday. Saladino received treatment and could return to action on Wednesday.

"He's doing good, we're just holding him back today for my well being," Renteria said.

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Renteria said reliever Juan Minaya is improving but still likely to start the season on the DL. Minaya suffered an abdominal tear in mid-March. 

"He has been improving solidly and responding to the treatments," Renteria said.

Yolmer Sanchez went 2-for-2 with an RBI and scored a run in a 7-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Surprise, Ariz. 

Michael Ynoa allowed an unearned run and a hit in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. 

Zack Burdi struck out three in a scoreless inning.