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.
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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.”