Beckham starts strong for Intimidators

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 23, 2008

By David Shaw
KANNAPOLIS ó Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Gordon Beckham, the eighth player selected in June’s amateur draft. You will.The new shortstop for the Class-A Kannapolis Intimidators hasn’t arrived wearing a “Can’t-Miss” label, but he’s impressed coaches, teammates and fans with his level-headed demeanor and top-shelf skills since reporting 10 days ago.
“It’s obviously different for me,” said Beckham, a record-setting 21-year old who signed for $2.6 million out of the University of Georgia. “Lots of new experiences. I’m trying to make the best of it, have some fun and enjoy it.”
What’s not to enjoy?
Including the game-winning single Beckham delivered in the ninth inning Friday, the Atlanta native hit .393 with a homer, four RBIs and six runs scored in his first seven pro games.
“There’s no doubt he’s an intelligent hitter,” said Kannapolis hitting coach Andy Tomberlin, a former Mets outfielder who played for five major league teams. “The way the ball jumps off his bat, you know he’s special. There’s a reason why he was drafted in the first round.”
Here’s part of it: Beckham led Georgia with a .411 batting average, a national-best 28 home runs and 77 RBIs this past season, earning the SEC Player of the Year award and All-American status. The Bulldogs advanced to the College World Series finals, where they fell to Fresno State.
“I had an unbelievable experience in Athens,” Beckham said. “It was definitely the right decision to go to college because I had no chance of going pro out of high school. Sometimes things happen for a reason. I had a ton of fun playing for Georgia ó and now, now I’m here.”
So far the White Sox organization is pleased with its investment.
Kannapolis manager Nick Capra said he believes Beckham, the No. 3 hitter in the team’s lineup, will advance quickly once he learns to adjust to minor league pitchers and hitters.
“He’s just getting his feet wet,” said Capra, a part-time outfielder for Texas and Kansas City in the 1980s. “He’d been out for about two months before he signed. He just needs to play, get some at-bats and repetitions. His presence in the clubhouse has been great, and his skills on the field look like they’re above-average across the the board.”
Beckham said he expected to be drafted anywhere from fourth through 12th in the opening round.
“That’s where I was slotted,” he said. “I was watching it in a hotel with my parents. Then, about four minutes before the White Sox took me, my agent (Mike Milchin) called and said they were gonna pick me. I was pretty excited.”
Milchin ó who also represents Detroit’s Justin Verlander, Pittsburgh’s Adam LaRoche and Atlanta’s Kelly Johnson ó helped negotiate Beckham’s signing bonus.
“We never put a number out there before the draft,” Beckham said. “We wanted the team that picked me to want me. I ended up waiting a long time to sign and probably could have waited longer and gotten some more money. But that’s not my personality to do that. I wanted to start playing baseball for this organization.”
He’s done that extremely well. In his debut at Hickory on Aug. 15, Beckham went 3-for-4 and scored twice, launching a modest five-game hitting streak. He cracked his first professional home run two days later with two runners aboard in a 13-6 win.
“The biggest adjustment is using wood bats,” Beckham said. “It’s tougher to hit, but wood makes you do a lot of things right. It keeps your swing short ó and you’ve got to be short to be successful against pitchers throwing in the 90s.”
At least one of his teammates thinks he’s been a quick learner ó and producer.
“I still see him as a kid,” said first baseman Mark Fleisher, the Intimidators’ top slugger this season. “He’s really just a junior out of college. But he’s been here a week and he’s already in our flow. He’s going stride-for-stride with everybody.”
Beckham’s off-season plans include a two-month stay in Arizona, where he’ll receive some one-on-one instruction and play in the fall league. Of course, that comes with a price.
“It means I’ll miss about half the deer hunting season,” said Beckham, who co-owns a 900-acre farm with his father in the middle of Georgia. “October and November are the best months. But I’ll live with that. I get to keep playing baseball.”And everyone else gets to learn his name.