GLENDALE, Ariz. — It has become cliché for players to identify themselves as reporting to spring training in the best shape of their lives.
And while White Sox pitching prospect Chris Beck might qualify for that status, he has a different take on the matter: he’s in the smartest shape of his young career.
Beck — who is expected to pitch two innings in today’s intrasquad game — is 13 pounds lighter than he was when the White Sox took him with the 76th overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft.
[Daily Digest: Beck the guy to watch in Tuesday's intrasquad game]
What that means for the right-hander — whom Baseball America ranks as the White Sox No. 8 prospect — is getting back to the form that once made him a potential Top 10 draft pick. Needless to say, the White Sox are thrilled about Beck’s condition as he prepares to enter his second full season in pro baseball.
“Pre-draft to now, it’s night and day,” White Sox player development director Nick Capra said. “(Beck) has made tremendous strides in getting back to where he needs to be as far as flexibility and strength and it has done nothing but help him and his career.”
Beck can laugh about it now.
He’s coming off a season in which he had a 3.07 ERA in 26 starts between Single-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham.
His velocity has started to return. His arm feels great. And his easy delivery and four-pitch mix has caught the attention of pitching coach Don Cooper in the best way possible.
“Chris Beck is going to be in the big leagues with Chicago some day,” Cooper said. “He’s good. He’s talented. He’s got some stuff to work on like everybody. Don’t be surprised though. Chris Beck has got my attention. He’s throwing the ball very well right now and I want to see him in games.”
Two years ago, Beck was in a much different place and it’s his own fault — though as mistakes go, this one would be pretty easy for most anyone to let go of.
Heading into the 2012 season at Georgia Southern, Beck was making good impressions on everyone. He had backed up a very strong sophomore season (9-5 with a 3.23 ERA) with a breakout performance in the Cape Cod League that had scouts raving. His fastball velocity increased to give Beck three very good pitches along with a changeup and a power slider.
“My friends back home were saying ‘This is awesome,’” Beck recalls.
But his Top 10 status took a hit when the velocity dropped during his junior year. He had trouble figuring out what went wrong and endured what he describes as a hectic time.
A season after he allowed only three homers in 103 innings, Beck yielded 11 in 103 2/3 innings. The showing scared off teams and Beck knew he was most likely not going to be picked in the first round.
“I kind of hit the panic button,” Beck said. “I would overthrow. I’d throw so much just trying to figure it out. Then I’d run a lot. I would beat myself up and not be able to recover.”
The White Sox didn’t scare off easily.
They selected Beck in the second round and gave him a $600,000 bonus, about $70,000 below the slotted amount for his pick. After they worked with him for a while, they asked Beck to modify his conditioning program before the 2013 season.
Turns out Beck had added muscle through a rigorous offseason program before 2012, but in all the wrong spots. So instead of feeling good, his body tightened up and lost flexibility.
“I had the mindset that the weight room is good, more of it is better,” Beck said. “Lifted the wrong way. Didn’t stretch, flexibility kind of got a little limited and it forced me to compensate by throwing at a different angle and therefore I had lost everything I had gained at Cape Cod.”
Beck shed 10 more pounds in the last year and feels even better.
The velocity has begun to re-emerge. Some of the depth he lost to a power slider has also begun to reappear. Beck knows much is due to the redefined conditioning program the White Sox have in place for him.
“A lot of my ability came back,” Beck said. “It’s actually working smarter and not harder. I really took that to heart this offseason. Last year, I lifted the right way, but still came in heavy. This year I came in at 225…It feels great. I was talking to a couple of guys. I was kind of scared because my arm felt almost too good for this time period. It usually doesn’t do that, but I’ll take that as a good sign.”