GLENDALE, Ariz. — Meet the new Gordon Beckham.
He’s not the old Gordon Beckham.
Or is he?
Beckham, whom White Sox fans fell in love with as a rookie in 2009 and agonized with as he battled to regain that boy-wonder form in the seasons that followed before he was traded last summer, is back. The belief on both sides is that this relationship can work under different terms.
After the Sox traded Beckham to the Los Angeles Angels for a player to be named Aug. 21, Beckham changed. He went from being a starting second baseman to a utility infielder, a role that should suit a player who was an All-America shortstop at Georgia, the Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year as a third baseman and a standout defensive second baseman for the Sox from 2010 to 2014.
Beckham seemed to flourish at his new job, too, hitting .268 with a .328 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage in 26 games during the Angels’ run to the postseason. It was a small sample size, but it looked better than Beckham’s .221/.263/.336 for the Sox in 2014 and .244/.306/.374 for them during his career.
The separation was a good thing.
‘‘It was, for sure,’’ Beckham said. ‘‘Just getting a clean slate. Coming back here is not necessarily a fresh start, but it’s definitely a clean slate from my past here. And the guys are totally different. So, yeah, I have a great perspective.’’
Bringing Beckham back made sense to the Sox. He is their best defensive second baseman, so he gives them a fallback if the competition for the starting job between 24-year-old Micah Johnson and 22-year-old Carlos Sanchez fails to produce a clear winner. Six-position guy Emilio Bonifacio can play second, too, but his ideal role is to back up in the outfield and infield and start in spots.
In a part-time role, Beckham’s bat won’t be the big issue it has been in the past. But his 1-for-19 start in spring training mustn’t fester, either.
‘‘He’s hit the ball hard enough to get some hits,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. ‘‘He’s been playing all over the place and doing a good job, so I’m not worried about that.’’
If Johnson, who is hitting .389 in Cactus League games, wins the job, Beckham might get his share of innings as a late-inning replacement at second — if he’s not playing third on that particular day, that is. His versatility helps the Sox and suits Beckham.
‘‘I think it’s rejuvenated him a little,’’ said infield coach Joe McEwing, who has been hitting ground balls to Beckham at second, third and short. ‘‘He’s like a kid again. He’s athletic. He can move around and have fun.’’
Beckham came to camp with the intention of winning the job at second but knowing the utility role, which might include starts in place of left-handed-hitting Conor Gillaspie at third against left-handers, was a good possibility.
‘‘Listen, that’s going to play out,’’ Beckham said. ‘‘Whatever happens out here, they will make the decision that’s best for the team. Whatever that is, that’s what I’ve signed up for, even if I don’t win that job. I’ve signed up for the opportunity to do both. They’ve made that very clear to me.’’
At 28, Beckham seems like the same friendly, honest, open guy he always was. He just seems, well, a little older. He said this Beckham might not be the open book with the media he always has been.
‘‘I wear everything on my sleeve, and I have to you all for a long time,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s just not worth it to me anymore. You all know who I am, what kind of person I am. I’m just here enjoying baseball, having fun on a team that can compete.
‘‘I try not to put too much expectation on myself and care what other people think I should be doing. I just want to help this team be better.’’