Maybe Tim Anderson will be the answer to the growing questions the White Sox are confronting at shortstop.
The 22-year-old entered Thursday hitting .308 with a .741 OPS in 69 games for Class-AA Birmingham, his first full season back in his home state of Alabama. He has 25 steals in 31 attempts, 14 doubles and six triples, and his 89 hits lead the Southern League — in which players are, on average, two years older than him.
“I feel like I’ve come a long ways compared to where I was two years ago,” Anderson, the White Sox first-round pick in 2013, said. “Everything’s just starting to click.”
The White Sox are pleased with Anderson’s progress, but recognize he still has a ways to go in his development.
[SHOP: Buy a White Sox 4th of July jersey]
A hand injury limited Anderson to 84 games and 364 plate appearances in 2014, and he’ll finally reach the 1,000 plate appearance mark sometime in July. He doesn’t have the extensive baseball background of other top prospects, having not played the game competitively until his junior year of high school in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Anderson’s approach at the plate needs the most refinement, despite his solid offensive production. White Sox director of player development Nick Capra said Anderson is “freelancing a little bit too much” with his approach and while the organization likes his aggressiveness, they do want to see it dialed back a bit.
In 304 plate appearances this year, Anderson has walked 10 times against 62 strikeouts. But that’s not necessarily what the White Sox are concerned about.
Capra said Anderson has a tendency to swing at pitcher’s pitches — like a slider diving low and off the plate — early in counts. His quick hands and good plate coverage allow him to make contact with those pitches, but it’s not always good contact.
“We’d rather him maybe be a little bit more patient and look for hitter’s pitches to hit early in the count,” Capra said. “But he’s hitting .300 and leading the league in hits, so we don’t want to take that aggressiveness away from him. We want him to be an aggressive hitter.”
[MORE: Sale named AL Pitcher of the Month]
Still, the White Sox aren’t going to parachute in and make any major adjustments to Anderson’s approach or overall offensive game. The thought is as Anderson continues to get more baseball experience, the pitch recognition and plate discipline will begin to come around.
“That’s the tough part about it — he’s having so much success, we don’t want to get in his way,” Capra said. “We don’t want to give him too much information that may kind of dwarf his experience or his path to development. We gotta be subtle in the way we do things with him.”
Anderson isn’t going to be the patient, sit-on-your-pitch type of hitter. He’s going swing, and swing a lot. That’s who he’s comfortable being as a player.
“I’m still aggressive and I’m always going to be aggressive,” Anderson said. “It’s just my style of hitting and how I hit. I feel like I’ve got a lot better, I’m making a lot of contact and squaring a lot of balls up.”
[ALSO: Sox aggressive on international signing day, locking up Tatis Jr. and three others]
The White Sox are nonetheless happy with the strides Anderson has made offensively, but they’re even more pleased with his improvement in two areas that the major league club has struggled with: Baserunning and defense.
Anderson’s baserunning instincts have taken a major step forward, Capra said, as he’s learned how to read pitchers and better time his jumps. He only stole 10 bases in 15 attempts in 2014 but his 81 percent success rate this year is the result of a better feel for that part of his game.
After making 31 errors last year, and booting a few balls during his spring training showcases, plenty of questions were raised if Anderson could stay at shortstop. He’s made 15 errors this year, though he and Capra attributed that still-elevated total to him having better range — especially to his right — and instincts in the field.
The White Sox have a track record of being aggressive in promoting prospects through the minor league ranks, and Alexei Ramirez has the lowest WAR of any qualified player this year (-1.3). The elephant in the room is Ramirez’s $10 million club option for 2016 (with a $1 million buyout) — Anderson may not be ready by the start of the 2016 season, but there a path could be cleared for him to reach the majors as soon as this fall.
Anderson, though, isn’t looking at the big picture. He’s not thinking about moving up to Triple-A, let alone the major leagues, and trusts that process will take care of itself so long as he remains focused on his craft in Birmingham.
“It’s just control what I can control and not get too excited about that,” Anderson said. “It’s gonna happen, it’s just, who knows when it’s gonna happen because I can’t control that, I can’t make that call. It’s just basically doing what I’m doing where I’m at and just staying focused.”