Sunday, June 1, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg
Continuing our 2008 Major League Baseball Draft Preview, we look at college shortstop Gordon Beckham. The 21 year old from the University of Georgia is regarded as the second best shortstop in this year's draft.
Not to be confused with the draft's top rated shortstop, Tim Beckham, Gordon's game is much more different than the raw, but extremely talented high schooler of whom is also from Georgia.
You'll hear a lot of the cliches associated with Beckham given his small size; scrappy, hard-working, and other intangible-oriented descriptions. While they may be true, Beckham can also play a litle bit too.
Beckham possesses some pretty good pop at the plate; maybe not as good as his college numbers indicate, but above average overall. Let's take a look at his swing:
Beckham has a high leg kick that he gets down relatively quickly. Kind of like speeding up a delivery can improve the velocity for a pitcher, you want to get that leg up and back down forcefully and quickly before rotating your hips. Beckham does this, but he doesn't do it with the greatest efficiency and we'll touch on this in a bit.
As Beckham lowers his leg, we see him loading his hands preparing to swing. While this is a major source of Beckham's power, we see his swing get a little long as the bat disconnects from his body. Ideally, you want to keep the bat connected with your body as you load up and prepare to swing. Again, we'll touch on this in a bit.
The actions Beckham incorporates with his swing are similar to Alex Rodriguez. See for yourself:
You see each player positioned in much of the same way at set up and with a very similar leg kick and drop. There are a few differences in which Rodriguez is much more efficient in the way he uses his body.
First, while the leg kicks are similar, Rodriguez lifts his leg and comes right back down with no loss of momentum, while maintaining great balance. Beckham doesn't lift his leg as high yet his toe touches the ground at the same frame number as Rodriguez indicating that Rodriguez is more forceful in planting that front leg. Beckham also has the habit of getting taller as he is planting, which I think takes away some of the power that he can generate off his back leg.
See if these clips help explain it better; the lines represent the highest point the leg reaches as each player moves into foot plant:
Now, we need to look at the lengths of each player's swing. In the above clip, you get can get a sense of the different lengths each swing has. As both players stride forward, you can see Beckham's bat begin to separate from his body, while Rodriguez is able to keep that bat connected with his body as he moves forward.
The significance? Rodriguez has the luxury of waiting before making the committment to swing. Since Beckham has a longer swing, he has to start the bat earlier than you ideally want.
A trait you will find in almost every power hitter (with very few exceptions) is the ability to turn the hands and hips together, while letting the ball travel deep into their hitting zone. They don't achieving "extension" by pushing their hands out in front and to the ball. They wait and then turn forcefully on a firm front leg. Rodriguez does this exceptionally well. Beckham, on the other hand, does a pretty good job overall, but again lacks the precise efficiency to maximize his power. This should explain what I mean:
Notice how everything is moving together for Rodriguez: the hands, the torso, the hips. Beckham looks like he opens his hips a tad too soon (compare the red lines outlining their front legs), so he loses some of the rotational forces that help a player generate power. Why is this? It may be because he is staying back for too long a period. Jeff Albert in an article on Rodriguez comparing his merely great 2006 season to his superhuman 2007 season said this:
"If the weight literally stays back on the back leg during the stride, then the hips are allowed to fly open and can not rotate as efficiently."
Beckham might have that same kind of problem. A line is drawn through the mid-point of the width between the legs of each player, so we can get an idea of how far each player is "staying back":
The difference is clear. However, we should keep in mind we are comparing Beckham to Alex Rodriguez, one of the best hitters in major league history. Beckham doesn't have a terrible swing, but we do know there are adjustments to be made and by looking at the adjustments made by Rodriguez after his 2006 season, perhaps he could improve his power output with basic mechanical adjustments.
Nevertheless, the swing Beckham possesses now is a reason many people question whether his extremely gaudy numbers at Georgia (.394/.507/.789) are actually indicative of what he'll put up at the professional level.
But don't the numbers mean anything?
Beckham's numbers are something to take into consideration, but as you know, we need to take college statistics with a grain of salt. Will the adjustments on his swing have a negative effect on his overall power?
For instance, will shortening his swing take away much of the power he put up at the college level especially without the help of using aluminum bats? Tough to say; we do know that he performed well in the Cape Cod League last Summer, which uses wooden bats, but he also played in the league's best park for hitters.
One area statisically where Beckham didn't really stand out was strikeout total. He only struck out 27 times, but of the 500 qualified players, Beckham placed just 350th (Source: Camden Depot). This may have been because of the longer swing utilized by Beckham.
A major factor for whether a team will ultimately use a high draft choice on Beckham will be if the team thinks Beckham can stay at shortstop. Some feel Beckham will eventually have to move to second, but from various reports, Beckham possesses a strong arm and his instincts are reported to be excellent, making up for any lack of range he may have.
So the question to be asked is: what's your team looking for? If the answer is an offensive minded shortstop with great intangibles who should be ready for major league action relatively quickly, then Gordon's your man. If you're looking for upside and a potential star, you'll have to keep searching.
7.5 Upside, Low-Average Probability
5 Downside, Low-Average Probability
Possible Destinations: Baltimore Orioles (4), San Francisco Giants (5), Chicago White Sox (8), Oakland Athletics (12)
For an explanation of the grading scale, please click here
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