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."

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.