By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) With two rookies vying for the second base job and a third baseman with some limitations, the Chicago White Sox brought back infielder Gordon Beckham on Wednesday.
A first-round pick by the White Sox in the 2008 amateur draft, Beckham will back up three infield positions as well as give manager Robin Ventura some right-handed hitting at second and third when matching up against lefties.
Beckham replaces outfielder Dayan Viciedo on the Chicago roster. Viceido was designated for assignment on Wednesday after failing to consistently live up to expectations. Although the 25-year-old Viciedo has great power potential — he hit .231 with 21 homers and 58 RBIs in 145 games in 2014 — he hadn’t proved worthy of everyday status. Chicago has 10 days to trade the young slugger or give him his release.
Meanwhile, Beckham will quietly compete for an everyday playing time with the knowledge that he might be a part-time player.
“I am in a much better place than where I was in August of last year,” Beckham said, referencing a trade to the Angels last August after he spent his first six seasons in Chicago. “In some ways, (the trade) was good for me to get away and generally reboot. It gave me time to work on my game since I was not starting every day. I used the time I wasn’t starting to really work to take BP and understand my swing a little better.”
Hitting has been the great mystery for Beckham since making a splash as a rookie in 2009, when he hit .270 with 14 home runs 63 RBIs in just 378 at-bats. He never hit for a higher average or driven in more runs in any full season after his debut campaign.
After looking at the free agent market this offseason, both Beckham and the White Sox believed it was best to bring back the superior defensive player for numerous reasons.
“I am very happy to return,” he said. “I have been watching what they have been doing from afar and it is very exciting for me. It will be fun to come back because I think they are going to be a really good team.”
The Beckham signing makes sense on various levels. First and foremost, Beckham is an elite defensive player at second and third base. He was a shortstop in college, and those skills are probably also still there. At the least, he will play in many games as a late-inning replacement at second or third base. His playing time may depend on the prowess young hopefuls Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson show as they compete to win the second base job.
A platoon with third baseman Conor Gillaspie, a left-handed hitter, could come to fruition if Beckham shows his hitting has improved. His career numbers of .245 with an RBI average of 45 per season since his rookie year won’t be good enough to win a full-time post.
Beckham hit .221 with seven homers, 36 RBIs and a .598 OPS in 101 games with Chicago last season. He hit .268 with a .756 OPS in 26 games with the Angels.
“I really was focused on getting better and learning from some of those guys (Angels players) out there,” Beckham said. “I feel I made some changes to my swing. I did feel more confident and started hitting balls better in BP and games toward the end of September. I at least figured out what I was doing wrong after stepping back from playing every day.”
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has re-addressed the defensive issues that have plagued his team the last two seasons. By rehiring one of the better defenders in baseball, Hahn has fortified his team on all levels, after beefing up the offense with earlier moves.
“Gordon’s role is to supply depth and flexibility to the roster given his ability to play solid defense at multiple positions,” Hahn said. “From his conversations with me and Robin, he knows the expectations and possibilities.”
The Viciedo move was inevitable, with no apparent position on Chicago for him to play. A lack of defensive skill limits the use any American League team would get out of Viceido unless he is a DH or first baseman. Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche will switch back and forth between those two spots in 2015.