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 trade catcher Dioner Navarro to Blue Jays

White Sox trade catcher Dioner Navarro to Blue Jays

The White Sox made room for the return of veteran catcher Alex Avila by trading Dioner Navarro to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night.

The club activated Avila off the 15-day disabled list and acquired left-handed minor league pitcher Colton Turner in exchange for Navarro, who spent the previous two seasons with the Blue Jays. Turner, who has a combined 1.33 ERA in 44 minor league games this season, has been assigned to Double-A Birmingham.

Navarro hit .210/.267/.339 with six home runs and 32 RBIs in 298 plate appearances this season.

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Avila, who has been on the disabled list since July 5 with a strained hamstring, went 7-for-11 with a home run and two walks on his assignment. He caught 12 innings during his rehab, including seven on Thursday.

“I’m ready to go,” Avila said.

The team has been happy with how rookie catcher Omar Narvaez has performed since he joined the club in July when Avila went on the DL. Narvaez has an .831 OPS in 43 plate appearances this season.

“I know Omar, with him being here and doing what he’s doing, you want him to get a little more of the shot of being able to play,” Ventura said. “I think he’s worked his way into that.”

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

The White Sox offense showed a bunch of late life on Thursday night.

Todd Frazier had two hits with runners in scoring position, including the game-winner, as the White Sox topped the Seattle Mariners 7-6 at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier’s one-out single in the ninth inning off Nick Vincent scored Adam Eaton as the White Sox won for the fourth time in five games. Frazier’s game-winning hit was his first since June 2015 and the fifth of his career. It and a game-tying, two-out, two-run single in the seventh helped Frazier shake off a game in which he struck out three times in his first three at-bats.

“You learn something,” Frazier said. “You take the last at-bat and throw it away and just keep on going. Unfortunately, it took me three times to do that. To come up clutch today felt pretty good.”

Frazier leads the club in home runs and RBIs.

Similar to his teammates, however, Frazier has lefty plenty of chances for more damage on the table. He entered Thursday hitting .159 with runners in scoring position for a team that ranks 18th with runners in scoring position (.255).

While Frazier struck out with runners on the corners in the first inning, he succeeded in his next two tries. He picked up Jose Abreu in the seventh after the slugger struck out against Steve Cishek. Frazier sat on a slider and ripped a 2-0 pitch into left field to drive in Eaton and Tim Anderson, whose one-out RBI double made it a 6-4 game.

Then in the ninth, Frazier came through again. Eaton’s bloop single to center got things going before Anderson bunted him over. Vincent walked Abreu to get to Frazier, who singled to left again.

Frazier was previously 17-for-17 with five doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

“These are the best ones,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can't rely just on the homer. There's more to his game than that. You have to be able to knock in runs when you're not hitting them over the fence. He can use the other side of the field. I think he can level it out somewhat and get some hits. Just put it in play more because you don't know know what's going to happen.”

[MORE: Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017]

David Robertson found that out in the top of the ninth inning when his outing was delayed for several minutes by a trio of fans who ran onto the field. Robertson worked around the delay and a one-out walk to keep the score tied at 6.

Down 2-0, the White Sox scored three times in the first inning to briefly take the lead.

Abreu and Avisail Garcia both singled in runs and Dioner Navarro had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo pitched well after a slow start and then ran into bad luck in the sixth inning. What looked to be a surefire double play ball kicked off Ranaudo’s glove and combined with an Anderson throwing error led to a three-run inning that put Seattle ahead 6-3.

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Ranaudo allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings.

The White Sox were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“That’s just part of it,” Robertson said. “I guess that happens some times.

“Everybody played hard. They didn’t give up at all tonight. We pitched well enough to win and had timely hitting. A few things went our way, a couple errors that really ended up giving us a few runs. A few things went our way and it was great to pick up a win.”

Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017

Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017

Rick Hahn said Thursday he won’t divulge which direction the White Sox would head this offseason out of respect to his current players and staff.

But once the offseason begins, Hahn said it would quickly become evident what the White Sox front office has in mind. Roughly a month after his comments about being “mired in mediocrity,” the White Sox general manager said that he, executive vice president Kenny Williams and club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf are still mulling their options and open to all. Hahn also strongly denied recent reports that a divided front office prevented the start of a rebuild at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, describing them as “tired.”

“The frustrating thing is it seems every few months we need to have this same conversation,” Hahn said. “The fact of the matter is I have no idea where an unnamed random report of any discord at the deadline came from. It’s simply untrue. There was no trade or direction of whatever it was described as vetoed, so to speak, at the deadline.

“We are of a similar mindset as to how best to proceed. We’ve had a number of conversations, both Kenny and I, as well as Kenny, Jerry and I, about the best way to approach the offseason and what we want to accomplish. And once the offseason rolls around we will start executing that plan.”

“It’s just, frankly, tired news and repetitive and there’s nothing there. None of us would be here doing what we do if we didn’t feel we were set up to have the potential for success.”

As for the most successful route to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Hahn wouldn’t yet commit to a plan. Hahn said the club would also address all questions about its roster and coaching staff after the season, which ends on Oct. 2.

With 36 games remaining after Thursday, the White Sox appear on pace for a fourth straight losing season.

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While the team has many of the top-tier pieces necessary to compete, its lack of depth continues to be a critical issue holding back the franchise. Injuries in the bullpen and outfield and the unexpected retirement of Adam LaRoche forced many part-time players or inexperienced pitchers into key roles. With a farm system still short on talent, the White Sox would likely need a serious cash infusion to fill in some of those holes in order to compete in 2017. Or, they could begin a rebuilding process and replenish their farm system by unloading some of their talented, affordable players.

Either way, Hahn isn’t ready to talk shop.

“We have a sense of what we want to do,” Hahn said. “Frankly, regardless of which direction it is — full rebuild or add on — we’re still in the middle of the season.

“If I were to say we’re going to do a full rebuild that’s disrespectful to what they’re trying to accomplish. To the other extreme, if I were to say we’re going to fight and go for it and plug the holes it begs the question, ‘Where are the holes?’ and that’s disrespectful to the guys in the clubhouse. It’s just not the time to be laying out offseason plans. We’re working on it, exploring a lot of angles internally trying to come up with priorities so we can hit the ground running when the time is appropriate.”

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When he spoke about the team’s trade deadline plans July 21, Hahn said the White Sox had only ruled out short-term acquisitions, but remained open to all options. He said the idea of trading away Chris Sale or Jose Quintana seemed “extreme,” in part because competing teams wouldn’t deal players helping them in their playoff chases; that they’d have a better market in the offseason.

Hahn said Thursday the White Sox remain open-minded. When reminded that the White Sox have operated in an aggressive manner under Reinsdorf, Hahn agreed. But he also noted that the White Sox haven’t been happy with their recent performances and left the door open for a rebuild.

“OK, but there also comes a point where there is a level of frustration with the way things have played out over the last couple of years,” Hahn said. “There are different approaches and again, I’m not saying (a rebuild) is the route we’re going to go. But I assure you there is absolute openness from Jerry, Kenny, myself. Everyone in that front office is looking for the best path to get us on an extended period of success, even if that involves a short-term step-back.”