White Sox

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

It sounds like Yoan Moncada’s knee is going to be fine.

The immediate future of that knee looked very much in question during the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals, when Moncada crumpled to the ground after getting hit in the knee with a baseball. He was in some pretty significant-looking pain, which after the game the second baseman likened to being hit with a hammer.

But Moncada hopes to play in the White Sox first-half finale Sunday, and manager Rick Renteria isn’t even leaning toward adding a fifth day to Moncada’s All-Star break until he sees how his second baseman feels Sunday.

It ended up being a good forecast for Moncada, who has had the definition of an up-and-down first half of his first full season in the major leagues.

While much of the talk has been about Moncada’s struggles so far this season, he’s actually been hitting very well over the past two weeks, coming into Saturday’s game with a .300/.391/.525 slash line and five extra-base hits, six RBIs and eight runs scored in the previous 10 games.

“I think he’s just being a little more aggressive in the zone early,” Renteria said. “He’s had quite a few really good at-bats over the last 10 days. Even if I think about (Friday), him walking the first three times, working deep counts, continues to be very focused in the zone. I mean, he understands the strike zone as good as anybody I’ve ever seen, regardless of how much time he has or doesn’t have in the big leagues. He’s got a really good idea.

“I think now he’s trying to take advantage of knowing that guys are going to try to come after you early. And if it’s in the zone, fire on that pitch. Get the barrel to it and do what you can.”

It’s a good stretch in a season that has to this point been defined by stretches for Moncada, who just a year ago was the No. 1 prospect in the game. Through the campaign’s first 17 games, his batting average was just barely higher than .200. Then he got hot for next 12 games before hitting the disabled list, which brought his season to a screeching halt. He returned in mid May and watched his batting average drop more than .020 points before the end of the month. In 46 games between May 15 and July 1, Moncada slashed .195/.242/.324. And then things finally reached an upswing in the last two weeks.

None of that tells the entire story, of course, good or bad.

Moncada has had his big moments, and Renteria, for one, continues to rave about Moncada’s mastery of the strike zone. But a look at the offensive averages leaves out other not-so-pretty areas of his game, like his major league leading 130 strikeouts and his 15 fielding errors, the third most in baseball.

Expectations were high for Moncada coming into the season and understandably so as the first-to-arrive major piece of this rebuilding effort. His acquisition in the Chris Sale trade followed by his White Sox debut last summer made his development the main storyline of this season.

So far, things have obviously not lived up to the hype, and Moncada isn’t happy, either, though he’s taking cues from his manager, Renteria, and teammate/mentor/friend, Jose Abreu, and looking at the positives.

“It hasn’t been as good as I wanted it to be,” Moncada said through a team translator on Friday. “But it hasn’t been as bad as you can think. It has been a challenging first half, but I’ve been learning a lot and working. I think the second half is going to be much better.”

Certainly this kind of performance from a young player (remember that Moncada is only 23 years old) isn’t completely unexpected. While he arrived in the majors after tearing up Triple-A, Moncada, as the White Sox brass will remind you, is not a finished product. None of these young players are. And the struggles at the plate and in the field could wind up not as harbingers of doom but simply as growing pains on the way to the big league stardom White Sox fans hope for from Moncada and all the other highly touted youngsters in the organization. Development isn’t linear, as Rick Hahn likes to say, and Moncada was perhaps never destined to improve in such dramatic fashion that it was visibly noticeable to the layman from one day to the next.

But at the same time, fans are understandably irked by repeating mistakes. In just the last handful of games, Moncada added to his strikeout total, made a fielding error that cost the White Sox a run and failed as a base runner to pick up a ball hit to the outfield, getting doubled up for a double play.

Talking specifically about the fielding error, Moncada’s 15th of the season, Renteria explained what happened — Moncada was trying a little too quickly to turn a double play — and that it is another learning moment in a season of them for these White Sox.

“Just something where you end up have to emphasize in a double play situation like that not to get anxious,” Renteria said. “You have to catch the ball first and then feed it to the guy on the other end. It’s not abnormal for young players to try to turn the DP from where they are at. It’s not the case. Receiving the ball fist and then giving the good feed. It’s not unheard of. It happens a lot. They speed it up a little bit.

“You go over it with him a little bit, and he cleans it up. That’s one more experience we can rely upon that didn’t turn out well but we can talk about it and have it run through his mind and see if he can understand exactly what we are talking about. He normally does.”

That’s all part of the development for Moncada, and like great players before him, rookie-year struggles in certain facets can disappear by the following season. Look at Kris Bryant on the other side of town, who led the National League with 199 strikeouts during his rookie season and has watched that number plummet in each season since. Perhaps Moncada will end up with similar results.

There’s been plenty to dislike about Moncada’s first half, but that doesn’t mean the flashes of brilliance weren’t there. Moncada carries the burden of expectations as one of the prospects touted as a main piece of the organization’s bright future. And just because the first half didn’t look like anyone wanted it to doesn’t mean he still can’t get to that point.

And hey, if the second half looks more like the last two weeks, maybe these first-half struggles fade into distant memory.

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Perhaps things are starting to turn around for Jose Abreu.

It seems somewhat counterintuitive that the American League’s starting first baseman in next week’s All-Star Game is having his worst season as a big leaguer. But that’s been the case for Abreu, who after four remarkably productive and consistent seasons with the White Sox entered Friday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals with an OPS nearly .140 points below his career average. That’s mostly due to an extended slump in which he slashed .174/.218/.292 between May 27 and Wednesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But maybe Abreu’s pulling out of his tailspin. He collected a pair of hits in Friday night’s win, including a well-struck home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth. That was his first extra-base knock since a triple on July 1 and his first homer since June 27.

Heck, a single two innings prior was enough to spark jokes from the home dugout, with Abreu’s teammates joking that he should get the team to retrieve the ball as a commemoration of his first hit in what’s seemed like forever.

Wiseguys, eh?

Abreu, always happy to joke around, appreciated the humor. And it’s what the White Sox appreciate about him that might be finally bringing him out of a month and a half of poor results: his work ethic.

Abreu’s commitment to his craft is a repeated talking point for manager Rick Renteria, general manager Rick Hahn and Abreu’s teammates. It’s what they respect most about a guy who put himself in some pretty elite company during his first four years in the major leagues. It’s what makes him a role model to the younger players so critical to this rebuilding effort who have already reached and who have yet reach the South Side.

Abreu’s efforts during this slump and the work he’s done to try to pull himself out of it: another example of what the young White Sox can learn from this veteran leader.

“I’m trying to tell them, to let them know what you need to do when you’re passing through a tough moment,” Abreu said through a team translator after Friday’s game. “Just have confidence in yourself, belief in yourself, belief in the stuff that you are doing and the stuff that brought you here. I think that’s the way.

“That’s the key for you to overcome difficulties and tough moments, have belief in yourself, have confidence in your approach, confidence in your routine, your work. That’s the way to overcome the difficulties, especially at this level.”

None of the current major league White Sox have escaped lengthy stretches of struggles in this developmental season. That includes big pieces of the rebuild like Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. If they need some pointers on how to get back on track, looking to Abreu for help seems an obvious move, and the guys admit they get advice from Abreu on a regular basis.

Questions about hypothetical deadline and offseason trades will likely follow Abreu to Washington, D.C., next week. After all, if the rebuilding White Sox have a player good enough to start the All-Star Game, why wouldn’t they be interested in moving him for some young pieces?

Well, this kind of thing is why. Abreu is such an example to the young players who will soon make up the vast majority of this roster that the White Sox place a different value on him than other teams might. They see him as an important part of the developmental process for these prospects and young major leaguers. And he’s a good enough player to earn a start in the All-Star Game, which helps the argument that Abreu should be a part of the next White Sox contender.

That’s all to be determined, of course, but Abreu, with his work and his mentorship, is showing his value on a daily basis. And if this is him pulling out of his slump, then that value gets even greater.