MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Improving Anderson a key piece to Sox rebuild

Shortstop showed defensive prowess as a rookie

Improving Anderson a key piece to Sox rebuild

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tim Anderson has vivid memories of the tryouts he went through for teams four springs ago, flying to St. Louis and Dallas-Fort Worth after the East Valley Community College Warriors had finished their season.

His eyes were wide as he left Decatur, Miss., and arrived at Busch Stadium and Globe Life Park.

"I'd never really been nowhere, just Alabama and Mississippi,'' Anderson said. "That was pretty good for me, very exciting. Now going all over, it's amazing.''

Anderson is 23, both athletic and well positioned. He seems to be in exactly the right place as the White Sox shortstop.

He raced through the Minor Leagues to get ahead of the team's decision to rebuild. He heads into his first full season with the Sox having already homered over the Green Monster in Boston, started a triple play and made a series of spectacular Derek Jeter-style jump throws to get outs after going to his right for grounders.

His confidence is as high as his desire to get better, and that's a pretty good combination.

"Looking back, I really haven't a lot of full seasons under my belt,'' Anderson said. "Coming out of junior college, that was my first two full seasons [of baseball]. I was big on basketball. As I grow and mature, I'm still young. I've got a lot to improve. There's a lot more in the tank. I'm definitely working to get to it.''

This is an era of great young shortstops around Major League Baseball, with most of the buzz belonging to Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor and Addison Russell. Trevor Story and Dansby Swanson are the name brands behind those but based on how well he played after joining the White Sox last June, Anderson is highly capable of inserting himself into the mix of future All-Stars.

Anderson's diving stop

Anderson hit .283 with nine home runs and 10 stolen bases in 99 games as a rookie. But it was his play in the field that left him and his bosses feeling confident that he's about to become their most impactful homegrown position player in a decade or more.

When the White Sox selected Anderson with the 17th pick overall in 2013 -- before the Cardinals and Rangers had a chance to take him -- there was a question whether he would be consistent enough defensively to stay at shortstop. But Anderson is a worker, and says he's "a completely different'' player than he was just three years ago, when he was in the Carolina League.

Working with White Sox coach Joe McEwing, the 6-foot-1 Anderson learned to get lower on grounders and use his first-step explosiveness to get to balls. Former manager Robin Ventura was struck by Anderson's judgment last season, praising him for consistently finding "a way to do the smart thing.''

McEwing has said Anderson has "the it factor,'' with all the tools necessary to become a very good player, maybe even a great player. Rick Renteria, the former Major League infielder who is taking over from Ventura, says Anderson has Shawon Dunston's arm and athleticism but is more fluid with his movements at shortstop.

While Anderson did commit 14 errors, FanGraphs rated him as being worth six Defensive Runs Saved. That ranked 11th among 48 shortstops who got at least 200 plate appearances.

Anderson's strong throw

Anderson admitted Thursday that he sometimes surprises himself.

"Sometimes I look back at the video and I ask, 'How do I do it?' '' he said. "For me to make those plays was huge. I'm happy, proud of myself for the steps I took from 2013 until now.''

Renteria recently watched video from Anderson's days on the basketball court. He led Hillcrest High in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to a state championship.

"As I've seen him jab-step, move around on the floor, I can see why he's a good shortstop,'' Renteria said. "He's got really good actions.''

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn praises Anderson's commitment to defense. But it's only one part of why he's so confident that Anderson is going to have a long career. Hahn believes Anderson is going to excel as a hitter even if he hasn't yet developed the pitch recognition and plate discipline to make pitchers work harder against him.

The downside of Anderson's rookie season was that he had only one walk and 39 strikeouts in his first 131 plate appearances, and finished the season with a 13/117 ratio over his 431 plate appearances.

"If he had, uh, let's just call it better discipline, then he would be hyped at the same prospect level as some of the elite young shortstops in the game today,'' Hahn said. "He knows himself very well. He knows he can get himself into a little bit of trouble outside the zone. But we've seen him do damage on bad pitches. He's a good bad-ball hitter. I think he wants to improve in that area. He knows he can do more damage in the zone than out of the zone, and as he continues to develop as a hitter I think you'll see more of that over coming years.''

Anderson starts a triple play

Anderson isn't stressing out about having a .306 on-base percentage, only 23 points higher than his batting average.

"It was one of those things,'' he said. "I really didn't pay attention to it. I still kind of don't pay attention to it. It's for the outside people looking in. That's something that will improve. It will definitely improve.''

While the White Sox offseason headlines were all about newcomers like Yoan Moncada and the trades that Hahn either has made or is working on making, Anderson is the organization's ace in the hole.

"Obviously, you want to build as much premium talent as you can up the middle,'' Hahn said. "To have at least one of those positions having a long-term answer, potentially, that's one very difficult need already checked off, which helps in the long run.''

Anderson has been impressed watching Moncada and the pitchers who were acquired from Boston and Washington with the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.

"We're going in the right direction here,'' Anderson said. "We're building that bond we need, that brotherhood. I feel like we've got a chance here to do something special in Chicago. I'm pumped about it.''

Anderson gives the White Sox a running start to that future.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.