White Sox

Desire to prove critics wrong has fueled Tim Anderson's defensive improvement

Desire to prove critics wrong has fueled Tim Anderson's defensive improvement

Those persistent questions about Tim Anderson’s defense that followed him everywhere in the minor leagues have slowed down considerably.

The loud voices attached to those inquiries have begun to tail off, too.

Three months into his rookie season, the White Sox shortstop has made a strong first impression, especially when it comes to a glove that many observers thought might eventually force a position change. Driven by a desire to be the best at his position and silence his critics, the talented first-year player has worked tirelessly to improve his defense. The results of those efforts aren’t only pleasing to the White Sox, they have even begun to sway the opinions of his detractors.

“When I saw him in the Fall League I didn’t see it,” a longtime National League scout said Wednesday. “I thought he would be a center fielder. He has made tremendous strides.

“He’s got great range and a strong arm. He’s hitting for average. He could be a perennial All-Star.”

Nobody quite knew what to expect from Anderson, 23, when the White Sox promoted him to the majors on June 10. The skillset of the 2013 first-round draft pick has never been in question.

Anderson’s speed is exceptional, his bat control is superb and his arm is strong. Those “raw tools” helped Anderson enter the season ranked anywhere from the No. 19 to No. 47 prospect in baseball, according to several publications.

But the questions continued, even as Anderson made progress at every step along the way in the minors. Anderson continues to answer them with some of his best work coming in the majors. Through Wednesday, Anderson is 10th among shortstops with 7 Defensive Runs Saved, according to Fangraphs.com. He also boasts an Ultimate Zone Rating of 4.5, which is 12th.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

White Sox third-base coach Joe McEwing marvels at the speed with which Anderson has learned.

The two worked together each of the past two springs and every day since Anderson’s promotion. Much of Anderson’s progress is in how quickly he has picked up the speed of the game, ie: knowing how much time he has to get to a ball and then how long until he must get rid of it. He believes Anderson’s blend of talent along with his with his drive and motivation will help him continue to improve.

“The adjustments he’s made in such a quick period of time,” McEwing said. “You see him getting better every day. He’s got what you call “it.” He wants to be the best. He’ll never show it, but he gets frustrated when he struggles.

“He’s an extremely quiet kid. But he wants to be the best and he wants to beat you every single night. He’s got all the ingredients to be a very good player, if not great player, for a long period of time.”

Adding knowledge to those ingredients has only improved the process. Anderson has played 16 games against the Detroit Tigers this season and therefore has already learned the tendencies of their hitters. He relied upon that information to make two spectacular plays in Tuesday’s game, though the one he made against J.D. Martinez still resulted in an infield single. But twice, Anderson positioned himself correctly and was able to track down a ball far in the hole, which took a hit away from Miguel Cabrera.

“His range has expanded and you’re starting to understand hitters and you’re seeing hitters and that’s part of his development,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “His recall of seeing guys over and over again and how guys are pitching and where he’s playing, he understands that a little bit better as he goes around the league. You’re just starting to see a guy improve with the knowledge he’s getting.”

Anderson agrees that the familiarity with opposing hitters has helped. But he also freely admits that the drive to answer his critics has fueled him, too. As long as the questions exist, Anderson plans to answer them.

“I kind of know where to play them,” Anderson said. “I kind of know their swings just like J.D., that ball yesterday, he kind of goes over the head of the third baseman a lot or in that hole.

“I’ve been very comfortable out there doing work and working hard at it. Once again, the word has been that I couldn’t play shortstop.

“So it’s still working and trying to prove them wrong.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.