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.

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”