White Sox

Growth spurt: How Tim Anderson developed into a blossoming star

Growth spurt: How Tim Anderson developed into a blossoming star

In a little over four years, Tim Anderson has risen from potential pro prospect to first-round talent to the recipient of a contract that could pay him $50.5 million.

Almost overnight, the White Sox shortstop has transformed from a raw, talented, basketball-first player who needed time to develop into a potential star. All this even though Anderson, whose new deal guarantees him $25 million over six seasons, has yet to make his first Opening Day start. He'll accomplish that feat on Monday afternoon when the White Sox start the 2017 season against the Detroit Tigers at 3 p.m. CST. 

How Anderson has made such a quick ascent is courtesy of his killer set of tools and a drive to learn anything and everything needed to prove his doubters wrong.

The man who has been there for the entire, albeit brief, ride said Anderson has always possessed the intangibles necessary for success. But even East Central Community College coach Neal Holliman is surprised how fast it has all transpired. Holliman says everything changed the first weekend of Anderson's sophomore baseball season in 2013.

"I've never seen anybody grow like he grew," Holliman said. "It was amazing. I would see him do something one week and then I would see him do something better the next week.

"He goes like 7-for-8 in the first weekend (of 2013) and my phone is going crazy. He comes in and I said, ‘I think it's time (to get an advisor). I don't know what's going on your end, dude, but mine is crazy. I feel like Tim Anderson's secretary.'"

Anderson's breakthrough took place 49 1/2 months before he finalized an extension that could keep in a White Sox uniform through 2024.

He'd had an impressive freshman season at ECCC in 2012, slashing .360/.425/.500 with 30 steals in 30 tries. But Anderson had only played organized baseball for three years and was still very inexperienced. He wasn't selected in the 2012 amateur draft.

Warren Hughes -- the scout who recommended the shortstop to the White Sox and later signed him -- originally thought Anderson needed time to develop. Anderson excelled in the 2012 Jayhawk League over the summer, which fueled expectations for his sophomore season.

He proceeded to exceed them immediately.

Facing Southwest Tennessee CC in a Feb. 9, 2013 season-opening doubleheader, Anderson went 7-for-8 with a double, two triples, three home runs, six runs and five RBIs. He also stole two bases. He hit .495/.568/.879 that season with 39 extra-base hits and 41 stolen bases.

"Warren Hughes saw his first game that year and called me immediately," said then-White Sox assistant amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler. "I saw him the next weekend and called Doug Laumann right away and it was on from there."

Ditto for Anderson.

Up until that point, Anderson mostly viewed baseball as a way to help pay for college. His goal was to reach a four-year school. Playing pro baseball never occurred to Anderson.

Anderson had always been a basketball player. He led Hillcrest High (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) to a state title his junior year and didn't have any expectations after switching sports.

Anderson signed ECCC in part because it was just far enough from home to get away and grow up. The Decatur, Ms. campus is nearly a 2-hour drive to Tuscaloosa.

Anderson and his parents also thought Holliman also seemed like a good fit. After one recruiting visit, Anderson was implored to call Holliman and sign on.

"My mom told me ‘You need to tell him you're coming. He's a good guy,' " Anderson said. "She was right."

When he joined ECCC, Anderson was asked to play second base. Anderson's roommate and fellow pro Kalik May (drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015) was the starting shortstop until Holliman decided to make a last-minute switch before the season. Anderson said he never minded playing second base because he didn't take baseball too seriously. He was simply happy to be playing.

But Anderson's mindset shifted after the 2013 season opener.

"It was crazy after that," Anderson said. "The next game there were so many scouts showing up. I was like, ‘Man, I've got a chance to turn this into a job and do this for the rest of my life.'"

Anderson embraced his newfound opportunity.

Already a hard worker, Anderson drove himself even more thinking about those who had overlooked him. Nobody besides Holliman -- who last June drove through the night with his family to Chicago for Anderson's MLB debut -- had offered Anderson a chance to play college ball. And then he went undrafted after the 2012 season.

So Anderson immersed himself in baseball and began to ask every question imaginable to improve. The kid who went from undrafted one year to the 17th overall pick in the next hasn't stopped asking.

"And he doesn't forget, I think that's the biggest thing," third baseman Todd Frazier said. "When you tell him one thing he might ask you again, but he will not forget. A guy like Miguel Cabrera's up and I want (Anderson) in the hole. And I'll look over first before I say anything and see him creeping over a little bit. He's starting to understand a little bit every hitter.

"He's catching on real quick."

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White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing praised Anderson in 2016 for always asking smart questions. As McEwing explained, Anderson didn't just ask questions to ask them -- he always had a reason. Veteran Jimmy Rollins said Anderson spent the majority of last spring training asking him about life. Instead of asking about baseball, Anderson ask Rollins how handled himself off the field, especially after Rollins received his first big contract.

"It was kind of one of those things my mom built into me -- you're not going to know anything if you don't ask," Anderson said. "If I want to know something, I'm going to ask it. That's the only way you're going to find out. I like somebody to be straight forward with me. If I'm doing something bad just let me know so I can correct it. I always want to know so I'm always wondering what's going on."

Anderson hasn't done much wrong in the majors.

He debuted 3 years, 4 days after he was drafted and spent his rookie season proving every scout who questioned his defensive abilities incorrect. Anderson produced 6 Defensive Runs Saved and a 6.3 Ultimate Zone Rating, according to fangraphs.com. He also finished with a .738 OPS in 431 plate appearances and was valued at 2.8 f-Wins Above Replacement.

While his plate discipline will need to improve some, Anderson didn't disappoint.

The performance spurred the White Sox into action last month as they locked up Anderson through at least 2022. Their reasoning is simple -- Anderson has already accomplished plenty in a short period and they believe more improvement is on the way.

"He's not in our opinion a finished product just yet," general manager Rick Hahn said. "We think there's a lot of good things to come as he continues to grow as a big league player."

Holliman could see it back then -- to an extent.

The one-time independent ballplayer turned ECCC coach has managed six other professional baseball players in 11 seasons. Even though the talent was raw, Holliman thought Anderson had pro potential.

But it wasn't just the talent that caught Holliman's eye.

It was how Anderson had grown from a kid who was "miserable" his first six weeks in the program to one who took the sport seriously. It was how Anderson always took to heart the conversations the two shared about the difference between being good and great. And it was how Anderson carried himself -- he's loyal, quietly confident and always accountable.

Holliman thought the entire package would work if given enough time.

He just didn't expect Anderson would wind up being a first-rounder. 

Not in such a short span.

"He was so athletic," Holliman said. "The arm worked. He could always hit. He just had good hand-eye coordination. It wasn't like we overhauled something, because we didn't. We just gave him reps and just stayed with him.

"The growth was unbelievable. Where most times you see somebody make a jump and then they plateau out, he kept growing. 

"I thought he was a pro. But I would have never guessed top five rounds. I haven't seen enough of those guys to predict that."

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

The White Sox just spent $123 million in two days. But there's still a lot of work left to do.

Even after adding Yasmani Grandal on a four-year contract (the richest deal in team history) and giving face of the franchise Jose Abreu a three-year extension, Rick Hahn's front office still has problems to solve in the starting rotation and in right field. The South Siders aren't closing the door on adding a more "everyday" style DH, either.

But those long-term contracts do cement a pair of middle-of-the-order hitters on the White Sox roster for the foreseeable future, growing a core that looks rather formidable after breakout seasons for Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jimenez in 2019.

So while the 2020 picture still has some holes in it, let's gaze into the future and try to figure out what the White Sox lineup will look like in the coming years.

2020

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Tim Anderson, SS
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. RF
8. DH
9. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Two big question marks still exist when it comes to forecasting the White Sox lineup for the upcoming 2020 season: Who will play right field, and what will the team do at DH?

The first is a total mystery, as Hahn will almost certainly search the free-agent and trade markets for a new right fielder. Nicholas Castellanos is the best available free-agent outfielder — though some prefer Marcell Ozuna — but comes with questions about his defense and will surely cost a pretty penny. If the White Sox are hell bent on adding a left-handed hitter in that spot, the most discussed options are Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson. The trade market has countless options, depending on what the White Sox are willing to give away in prospect capital. Don't expect them to deal away any of their highest rated prospects in a trade for a player with just one year of control remaining like Mookie Betts. Whether the White Sox go after a long-term or short-term fix in right field also is an unknown. The former is preferred, but the latter could be an option depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out.

The second of the question marks, DH, at least has comes with an in-house option now that Grandal is in the fold. If the White Sox can't find a better external option, they could be comfortable with a rotation of Abreu, Grandal, Zack Collins and James McCann at DH. But as Hahn said Thursday, there's "a lot of offseason left." Abreu, it should be noted, is expected to contribute as a DH on as regular basis as he did in 2019. Even though he has expressed a dislike for the position, he played 34 games there this past season.

It might not be realistic to expect Robert and Madrigal to be installed at their respective positions on Opening Day, but both project to be everyday players for much of the 2020 season, Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. Jimenez isn't going to a new position for now, with Rick Renteria saying over the summer, "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." Moncada has a lot of athleticism and versatility, allowing the White Sox to at least consider a potential pursuit of star free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. But Hahn said last week the team has no desire to switch Moncada's position for the second consecutive year.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. new SP
3. new SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. Reynaldo Lopez/Michael Kopech

The White Sox are going to add two starting pitchers this offseason. They're already rumored to be in pursuit of Zack Wheeler, who would slot in nicely alongside or just behind Giolito at the top of the rotation. His arriving on the South Side is no lock at the moment, so I won't ink him into the long-term projection just yet. But he's a kind of pitcher who would line up with the team's planned contention window. Hahn could look for two pitchers who fit that description, or he could go long-term with one and short-term with another. He's got options, and there's no knowing which options will end up the final results right now.

Hahn said in September that Giolito, Cease and Lopez have rotation spots for 2020. Kopech, meanwhile, will be on some kind of innings limit next season in his return from Tommy John surgery. After missing the entirety of the 2019 campaign, the White Sox could limit his big league usage in a number of ways: starting him in the minor leagues, skipping some starts or having him throw out of the bullpen. Bottom line: Kopech will not make a full 30-plus starts in 2020. Lopez is an interesting case, as he struggled mightily to find consistency in 2019. How long will he be allowed to keep searching for it if the White Sox are intent on contending for a playoff spot in 2020?

2021

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

It's impossible to say right now what kind of position the White Sox will be in after the 2020 season, but it's perfectly fair to assume that even if the contention window doesn't open in 2020, it should be fully open by 2021 — if everything goes according to plan, of course.

There are so many things that are difficult to predict, such as whether someone takes a step backward and the team needs to address a position they didn't think they'd have to, or if a breakout season from someone I've placed further down in the batting order necessitates them being the new cleanup hitter. If Hahn takes a short-term approach to right field or DH this winter, does he search for a long-term solution next offseason? Does one of the myriad outfield prospects who were plagued by injuries and under-performance in 2019 explode for a huge season in the minor leagues in 2020, forcing himself into the long-term forecast?

What we do know if that all the guys currently projected to play everyday roles in 2020 are under contract for 2021, too. Robert, Madrigal, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Anderson. They're not going anywhere. (I flip-flopped Anderson and Madrigal in the batting order just because Madrigal's elite bat-to-ball skills, should they stay that way once he reaches the big leagues, would figure to make him a valuable hitter near the top of the order behind Robert and ahead of the big boppers. And Anderson could fill that "second leadoff hitter" role that has been used by teams in the past. Renteria and the White Sox could certainly have different ideas.)

The big change, though, could come in the form of Vaughn's arrival at the major league level. The White Sox made him the No. 3 pick in June's draft, and as an advanced college bat, he could be on a similar path to Madrigal, who went from No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft to the doorstep of the majors by the end of his first full season as a pro. If that's the case, a 2021 arrival date for Vaughn is not at all out of the question. Maybe he arrives even earlier, at the tail end of the 2020 season, if he has a monster campaign in the minors and the White Sox could use some late-season thump in the middle of a playoff push. But that would go against how the White Sox have patiently handled their prospects during this rebuilding process.

As for where Vaughn is forecasted to play, don't think that the Abreu extension is a bad sign for him. He's a first baseman, like Abreu, but both have questions about their defense there. Abreu is a diligent worker when it comes to his defense, even if the defensive metrics don't show entirely positive results. Abreu doesn't like to DH but will. Vaughn was drafted with questions about his defense, and some speculated he'd end up a DH down the road. The White Sox don't like talking about youngsters as full-time DHs — see the comments on Jimenez — so maybe they can finally pull off the first base/DH platoon with Abreu and Vaughn they tried with Abreu and Yonder Alonso at the outset of 2019. Or maybe Abreu is convinced by 2021, his age-34 season, that he's best suited as a regular DH and hands the first-base reins over to Vaughn.

There's still that mystery in right field, only because we don't know who will be there in 2020. Prospects like Micker Adolfo or Luis Basabe or Blake Rutherford could prove themselves major league ready by the time spring training 2021 rolls around, and if this winter's addition is a short-term one, the door will be open for one of those guys. Or maybe a short-term addition simply yields to the search for another free-agent replacement a winter from now. Or maybe Hahn adds a right fielder on a multi-year deal this offseason, and that guy is in the plans beyond 2020, as well.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. 2020 SP
3. Michael Kopech
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Carlos Rodon/Reynaldo Lopez

I would not be at all surprised if the two starting pitchers Hahn adds this offseason are on multi-year deals and the rotation doesn't require any additions next winter. In fact, we might be debating who the White Sox have to exclude from the big league rotation, as Dunning and Lambert will be fully recovered from their Tommy John surgeries by then. Don't forget, too, that Rodon will be in his final season of team control come 2021. It's difficult to figure out what to expect from any of those three Tommy John recipients in 2020, but even if none of them makes an impact then, they'll all be options for 2021.

Giolito, Kopech and Cease all figure to be the owners of secure big league rotation spots by then. Lopez could be, too, though he's the biggest long-term question mark after his rough 2019 season. At least one of this winter's additions should be a long-term one, so he'd take that No. 2 spot, or perhaps lower if Kopech or Cease really break out in 2020 the way Giolito did in 2019. Should the White Sox make a short-term move with their second starting-pitching addition this winter, they might be on the hunt for another free-agent or trade acquisition next winter.

If everything goes right, it points to Hahn finally having that "good problem" he's always referencing of too many quality starting pitchers. That could make the White Sox able to upgrade their roster with trades involving the guys who don't make the cut, though depth would remain important, as the parade of ineffective fifth starters showed in 2019.

2022

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Yoan Moncada, 3B
4. Eloy Jimenez, LF
5. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
6. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
7. Yasmani Grandal, C
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

Again, same situation as the 2021 forecast. Robert, Anderson, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Madrigal and Vaughn will all still be under club control. There could be plenty of variation in the way the batting order shakes out depending on who's not and who's not by then. Vaughn, in particular, would figure to be placed in a spot that takes advantage of his power should he meet the expectations that accompanied him when he was drafted. Abreu, in his age-35 season, might be surpassed by Moncada and Jimenez as the primary offensive threats in this lineup, though Abreu has been so consistent in his major league career so far, that minimal regression wouldn't be a shock.

The right-field question can't be answered until we know the plans for 2020 and what kind of bounce-back seasons might occur among the prospect group over the next two years. There's a possibility Hahn could be going back to the free-agent or trade drawing board, even two offseasons in the future. Who knows?

The 2022 season should be the thick of the White Sox contention window, and they figure to be a team with realistic championship aspirations by this point. Teams like that tend to make big upgrades every winter (not to mention at the trade deadline), so it's quite possible there's a huge future piece that we're not accounting for just because this is what we're projecting in the present. And that could shake things up dramatically.

But thanks to the contracts announced in the last two days, we know that Abreu and Grandal will be part of these lineups.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. Michael Kopech
3. 2020 SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/2021 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Reynaldo Lopez

Again, there's too much mystery to make a true projection. Maybe that free-agent pitcher signed this winter eclipses Giolito and is the staff ace. Maybe Kopech rises to that No. 1 spot. Maybe Lopez or Dunning or Lambert or, heck, even Jonathan Stiever become a rotation lock. Maybe there's a future free agent in an offseason to come who the White Sox can't pass up the opportunity to sign. (Rodon is set to hit free agency after the 2021 season, which is why he's not on this list.)

I'll put Giolito and Kopech and Cease in there now. But there are so many possibilities, which is both a good thing and a potentially precarious thing for the White Sox. Best-case scenario: They have too many good starting pitchers and are able to trade one or more of them away to upgrade the roster elsewhere. Worst-case scenario: They have to repeatedly return to the free-agent and trade markets to find new solutions.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Three more years for Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Three more years for Jose Abreu

The White Sox ripped up their qualifying offer for Jose Abreu and instead reached a 3-year contract with their All-Star first baseman.

-Why did they do it and what does it mean? (1:30)

-What can the White Sox expect offensively from Abreu during the contract? (5:50)

-Tweets from White Sox fans (13:00)

-Does this affect Andrew Vaughn? (17:50)

-The Zack Wheeler rumors (24:00) and more.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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