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."
[VIVID SEATS: Get your White Sox tickets right here!]
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."