Tim Anderson is one of two players who can make a case for being the top prospect in the White Sox system. He's been on more than a few Top 100 lists across MLB, has great tools and has developed quite well for such a raw talent. His performance, overall, was all that one could hope for in 2015.
With the White Sox declining the $10M option on Alexei Ramirez and potentially leaving a hole at the key infield position, some are now calling for Anderson to skip AAA and go straight to the majors. In a decidedly unscientific Twitter poll, beat writer Scott Merkin showed that 59% thought he should get a shot at the Opening Day job.
But here's the thing - he's not ready.
Let's start with which of his baseball skills would indeed translate to the majors right now. For one thing, he's got 60 or 70 grade speed, and good instincts on the basepaths - so there's a win. Anderson is a player who could add value when he's on base. Also, he's got plenty of arm for shortstop or any other position.
But arm strength is a physical tool, not a baseball skill. He makes some very tough throws look easy, but also sometimes makes the easy ones look difficult. His throwing skill is still somewhat raw. And this is a theme.
How about fielding his position? Without a doubt, Mr. Anderson has improved his defensive game in the past year. Yes his error numbers went down, but don't be deceived by what is an unreliable measure of defensive capability. More important are reports from scouts and our own looks, indicating he's gotten more precise and consistent with both his footwork and glove. That's a great sign for a player quite young for his level, and even more raw in baseball terms than his age would indicate.
The problem is, defensively, he started 2015 from being a shortstop so raw that many people felt it was unlikely he'd stick at the position at all. Now he looks more likely to be a shortstop in the majors when he gets there, but that isn't the same as saying he's a major league defender today. The skills just aren't mature enough yet.
At the plate? Tim has very quick hands, translating to lots of bat speed. Not surprising then that he hit .312 in AA last year, and even showed some glimpses of power (though he's not likely to be a prolific home run hitter).
This however is a case where the numbers are somewhat deceiving. He posted a scant 4.4% walk rate, and most of those walks came late in the season when pitchers were either going around him (especially with Hawkins and May out of the Barons lineup, leaving him unprotected), or throwing junk to see what he'd bite on. He didn't draw his second walk of the season until his May 6th, his 25th game of the season.
If you watch him hit like we did last year, you can see why. He struggles to recognize and adjust to breaking pitches, and some load and hitch noise gives him trouble with inside heat. He can get around on big velocity, and his excellent hand-eye coordination and quick wrists help cover some misreads. But in the majors, he'd be lured into bad swings far too often. Right now, he's an effective mistake hitter, and showing signs of being more - soon.
Some people will point out that AA is often the level with the highest level of raw prospect talent, with AAA being half-populated by AAAA and minor league veteran types. While that sometimes holds true, it also makes AAA a perfect next step for a player like Anderson. While the pitchers there may only have big time pitches on par with AA, they are also much more sophisticated and proficient at exploiting hitters' weaknesses. This is precisely the kind of development Anderson needs at this point.
So, what does Tim Anderson look like starting at shortstop for the Chicago White Sox in April? An impressive athlete with loud tools providing occasional jaw-dropping moments. But also, frustrating mistakes defensively, and big struggles with offspeed stuff at the plate. He's not likely to hit enough or get on base enough to make the speed really work.
Perhaps most importantly, pushing a raw talent like Anderson to the majors before he's ready is likely to stunt his development. This is a talent with a good chance at being a major league regular and perhaps even a star player. Why risk throwing that future value away by rushing him to the big leagues, when his performance isn't likely to be a difference-maker right away?
Tim Anderson is a big talent, but he's not yet ready. Let's talk again around September.
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