Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 4/26/12

Gordon Beckham has not lived up to expectations. After being selected eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox in 2008, Beckham was expected to be one of the team’s future stars. And after a strong rookie season, it looked like Beckham might achieve that goal. Since then, however, Beckham was struggled mightily. For the 25-year-old, 2012 is a make-or-break year. The early signs do not look encouraging.

While it’s still early, Beckham has been terrible this season. Through 55 plate appearances, Beckham is hitting just .188/.255/.240. He’s also struck out at a 23.6% clip, the worst rate of his career. Since his promising debut, Beckham has turned into one of the worst regulars in the game. On any other team, Beckham’s job security would be in jeopardy.

Problem is, the White Sox don’t have a strong in-house replacement. Brent Lillibridge posted a higher WAR than Beckham last season despite receiving 300 fewer plate appearances, but his breakout isn’t sustainable. Considering Lillibridge struck out 28.7% of the time last year, it was a miracle he hit .258. And while he slugged .505, he had never approached that level of power in his professional career. Marc Hulet may have ranked Eduardo Escobar eighth on the White Sox top prospect list, but his bat won’t play in the majors. He would likely be a non-prospect on any other team. Since the White Sox have no immediate replacements, Beckham should continue to get opportunities to prove himself.

Considering his track record, Beckham may struggle to produce much value. Very few second basemen go on to have strong careers after struggling as much as Beckham has early in his career. Using our age filters, I looked at second basemen over the past forty years who produced similar value to Beckham between their age-22 and age-24 seasons.

Name PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR Asdrubal Cabrera 1424 8.10% 15.90% 0.284 0.346 0.390 0.327 5.5 Glenn Hubbard 1505 9.40% 12.60% 0.245 0.318 0.357 0.306 4.7 Rickie Weeks 1333 11.10% 22.80% 0.250 0.357 0.411 0.347 4.6 Gordon Beckham 1485 7.60% 18.00% 0.249 0.318 0.386 0.311 4.6 Aaron Hill 1013 7.50% 10.60% 0.284 0.346 0.386 0.322 4.1 Jose Lopez 1903 3.80% 11.10% 0.278 0.310 0.404 0.309 3.4

That’s not a very encouraging list. Aside from Weeks, the other players on the list don’t inspire a ton of confidence. When healthy, Weeks has proven that he’s one of the better second basemen in the game. Hubbard and Lopez had lengthy careers, but neither can be considered great full-time options at the position. And the juries are still out on Hill and Cabrera. Both players have experienced success in the past, but have failed to sustain it. After a strong 2009 — in which he posted a 4.1 WAR — Hill has been an awful everyday player. After a strong 2009, Cabrera collapsed in 2010. While he rebounded back to a 3.6 WAR last year, he’ll have to prove that it wasn’t a fluke.

But Beckham may even be able to reach that level of success in the majors. By their age-25 seasons, Weeks and Cabrera had each posted one season with a 3+ WAR. While Hill wasn’t that good early on, he didn’t reach the majors until he was 23-years-old. Even though he played one fewer season, Hill still managed to post as much WAR as Beckham.

Beckham just hasn’t shown those same flashes of potential throughout his career. There aren’t many players who go on to have successful major league careers after scuffling as like Beckham. Unless Beckham can defy recent history, his time as a full-time player will be coming to an end very soon.

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