Last shot: Tigers' Beckham says playing days are over if he doesn't win roster spot

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Gordon Beckham

Lakeland, Fla. – Here’s the thing about Gordon Beckham: Because he got to the big leagues so quickly, and he did so much damage against the Tigers and the American League Central Division with the White Sox in the early part of this decade, you think he’s older than he actually is.

“Yeah, in Triple-A last year I had guys calling me Benjamin Button,” said Beckham, whom the Tigers signed to a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training. “I thought that was hilarious.”

Physically, he looks like he did when he broke in at age 23 in 2009, same baby-faced smile, like he's aging in reverse, or not at all. And although he’s bounced around the last five years, including spending most of the last two seasons with the Mariners’ Triple-A team in Tacoma, he’s just 32 years old.

“I am still young enough to do this,” he said. “But what these last couple of years has taught me is, you don’t take one day for granted in the big leagues. I just want to go out and do the best I can, and hopefully it’s enough to make the roster and I can keep playing for a little longer.”

Beckham has no contingency plan beyond that. He spent more time in the minor leagues the last two seasons (177 games) than he did after he was drafted in the first round out of the University of Georgia in 2008 (88 games).

That’s not going to happen this year, one way or another.

“At this point in my career, if it doesn’t work out here, I might be done,” he said. “I’ve been up and down with the Mariners the last two years. It’s not something that is super appealing to me anymore. I want to compete at the highest level.

“If that’s not the case, maybe it’s time to do something else.”

That the Tigers were willing to give Beckham a fair chance to not only win a roster spot, but to compete for the everyday second base job, is why he is here.

“I just asked, if I come in here and play well in camp, do I have a chance to make the team?” Beckham said of his conversations with Tigers general manager Al Avila and assistant general manager David Chadd. “They said yes. I felt like I played well last spring and probably could’ve made the team, and didn’t.

“So I didn’t really care (what team) it was, I just wanted the opportunity to go play, and if I played well, I deserve to make the team.”

Beckham, whose father-in-law is Tigers roving hitting coordinator Scott Fletcher, said there were three or four other teams interested in him.

Niko Goodrum

“This made the most sense,” he said. “It’s cool that my father-in-law works for the Tigers. That’s a really good situation. But mostly this is the best opportunity. Other teams were interested in me winning a roster spot, but there wasn’t as clear a path to the big leagues as there is here.”

It’s not an entirely clear path. Beckham is competing for the job with Niko Goodrum, who started 59 games at second base for the Tigers last season. If Beckham does prove capable of playing every day, the Tigers would happily move Goodrum into a full utility role.

Also in the mix at second base are prospect Dawel Lugo, Harold Castro, Ronny Rodriguez and Brandon Dixon, whom the Tigers signed off waivers from the Reds.

“I feel good,” Beckham said. “My body feels good and my swing feels better than it ever has. I am excited about what I can do here.”

He won’t have to introduce himself to manager Ron Gardenhire. He hit .441 in games at the old Metrodome in Minneapolis when Gardenhire managed the Twins. Over his career, Beckham hit 20 home runs, knocked in 78 runs and posted an OPS over .700 against the Twins and Tigers combined.

“Good memories,” Gardenhire deadpanned. “For him. We laugh about it. He killed us. Hit some home runs and had a lot of big games against us in the other organization. He was solid. He’s a good player with a lot of experience.

“He says he kind of found himself again. So we’ll go out and see how it all breaks down. I am just glad we have competition.”

Beckham, with the help of his father-in-law Fletcher, revamped his swing last season. The results were a .302/.400/.458/ slash-line and an .858 OPS at Tacoma.

“Last year was really encouraging,” Beckham said. “And now it’s just become a little more natural. Last year, because the swing change was new, it felt mechanical. Now I’m not thinking about it, it’s just natural. It feels like when I was younger.”

Being older and feeling younger -- Benjamin Button, indeed.

Around the horn

Right-hander Michael Fulmer was back with the club Sunday after missing two days tending to a family matter. Although he didn’t stay and talk, he did say everything was settled back in Oklahoma.

“He’s doing fine,” Gardenhire said. “We just told him to take it real easy on the drills. It’s a long spring and we want him to get through this healthy.”

…Left-hander Matt Moore and wife Anna finally decided on a name for their first baby, a boy, born Thursday. They named him Luke Henry.

Twitter @cmccosky