As Spring Training was about to open at Camelback Ranch in February, Tim Anderson was nominally in competition for the Opening Day starting job at shortstop for the White Sox. He wasn’t the most likely candidate for it, with Tyler Saladino and perhaps Carlos Sanchez ahead of him. Then the team signed Jimmy Rollins, and a long shot became a moon shot. Tim was going to AAA.
Now with the Charlotte Knights, the top prospect in the system is under the microscope. He missed a few games with some minor wrist soreness, and wrapped around that he’s so far not been hitting a ton (.250 AVG, .035 Iso), just recently drew his first walk (in his 19th game – then added two the next night), and his strikeout rate is a pretty high 27.5%. The hits have been trending up a bit lately, but that K/PA rate has been about the same all along.
The disappointing numbers have caused some consternation in some circles. Some fans are concerned he’s not as-advertised. Others say not to worry, given the small sample size. Both are really missing the point, though. This is Tim Anderson being exactly what he is – but it’s also not a reason to panic or even have heightened concern, just yet.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Anderson has never drawn many walks, and has consistently taken an aggressive approach to hitting. He walked a grand total of 9 times in 2014, and an improved but still-low 24 in 2015. So how is it he was able to hit over .300 each of those seasons?
Watching this raw-for-his-age prospect at the plate gives you some clues. He’s got very fast hands and gets the head of the bat out very quickly. He’s also quite athletic, and shows excellent barrel control, able to adjust mid-swing to put wood on the ball even if he’s swinging at pitches he shouldn’t offer on. This means he’s able to use natural tools to overcome poor zone judgment, some of the time. If you want to see his approach in action, you can watch our videos from late last year: from behind the backstop, and from the open side.
Then there’s the level of competition, specifically around refinement. Facing pitchers in the Carolina League (A+), and more so the Southern League (AA), there’s plenty of raw talent to work against. But many of those hurlers lack command and consistency, unable to exploit specific weaknesses throughout at-bats. But now in AAA, he’s facing older, more mature, more experienced pitchers, some of whom have major league experience. Their talent may not be any greater than what he saw in AA, but their ability to make him go fishing will be substantially better.
When looking at Anderson’s 2015, take a look at his walk counts during the season. By month, he had 1 in April, 4 in May, 5 in June, 6 in July, and 8 in August/September. His first instinct is towards aggression at the plate, and that’s in harmony with White Sox player development staff previously stating they prefer hitters to try to hit first and adjust from there. One can question the wisdom of that, but it means this prospect is doing what he’s been trained to do. He had no walks in April this year, but has three so far in just a few games in May.
His power game is similar. Last season, he hit 4 of his 5 home runs from mid-July on. The year before, he hit two in April and May combined, then hit 7 in his last 40 games (he missed some time to injury late in the year). He’s not likely to be a big power threat in the majors, but he does have some pop that will show up as he gets into a rhythm.
These trends are encouraging in terms of expectations for 2016. As long as you put aside the idea that Anderson would be up with the big club before the All Star break – which was highly unlikely anyway – there’s reason to believe Mr. Anderson will make adjustments as he goes along, just as he has at previous levels. That doesn’t guarantee success, but worried Sox fans should take some solace in the fact that this prospect has shown the willingness and ability to make changes as he’s progressed up the ladder.
What Comes Next
A year in AAA was exactly what Anderson needs. The more refined pitchers he will face, another year of development for a raw hitter, and getting some struggles out of the way in the minors instead of the majors all make this obvious. Gordon Beckham has taught us the danger of promoting a prospect too quickly. So what should we expect from Anderson?
Initial struggles were predictable. And hitting .250 (around .300 the last 2 weeks) is, relatively, pretty decent for “struggling”. The next step is for him to do what he did in 2015 – begin to adjust. He’ll need to be a little more patient, take a few more pitches, and give himself a chance to get to know pitchers at this level. His natural skills are fantastic, but he needs to change his mental approach to allow those skills to translate to results.
Watch not only his walk totals, but how many pitches he sees per plate appearance. How often does he swing at pitches outside the zone? Sadly, we don’t have O-Swing data from the minors. Pitches per PA is only available if you want to track each game in the game trackers as they happen and create your own spreadsheet as you go along. So you’ll have to watch him play (MiLB.tv is a good place to start), or even watch his PA’s in the Gamecasts or via the MiLB First Pitch app.
Anderson has shown successful adjustment throughout his career, on both sides of the ball, and those abilities are part of why he’s so highly considered as a prospect. There’s a good chance you will see the same positive trend in 2016, but patience is required. If you’re willing to wait until maybe a September call-up, there’s a good chance you’ll be happy with what you see in the end.
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