White Sox

Is Tim Anderson silencing the doubters? 'He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he's one of the best in the game'

Is Tim Anderson silencing the doubters? 'He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he's one of the best in the game'

In the top of the 12th inning, he hit a go-ahead home run. In the bottom of the 12th inning, he made a spectacular play to end the game.

It was just one night in Kansas City at the tail end of a losing season. But Tim Anderson’s process of silencing the doubters might have hit a new high-water mark Wednesday.

Anderson has long been considered a key piece of the White Sox rebuilding project, and the team seems to have his name etched in as their shortstop of the future. But that hasn’t stopped a great many fans from projecting otherwise. They’ve guessed his future might be in the outfield after he led the majors with a whopping 28 errors last season. They’ve guessed his future might not be as bright as it’s been suggested after he finished last season with a .276 on-base percentage and 162 strikeouts.

This season, however, has looked quite different. He hasn’t exactly pulled a 180 from a statistical perspective. He's slashing just .248/.290/.420 and ranking near the top of the league with 17 fielding errors with 16 games left on the schedule. Those are obvious improvements from last year — during which Anderson spent much of the season battling the effects of the death of his best friend — even if they aren’t dramatic ones. But the main difference has been in Anderson’s play of late, particularly defensively, where he’s making plays (and impressive ones, at that) at a much greater rate than before and making fewer of the mistakes that defined the outlook many had on his future.

“I’d say (there’s been a growth) within the last two to three months,” said White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing, who works with Anderson every day. “He’s gone through a stage where he understands and he’s accountable for the mistakes he was making on the field. And now he’s able to sit back and learn from them and adjust, and he’s just running with it now.

“I believe he’s playing free. There’s not a weight on his shoulders. He wants to prove everybody wrong. (People say,) ‘He’s not a shortstop.’ He wants to prove that he is a shortstop and he’s one of the best in the game.”

General manager Rick Hahn has said multiple times that the young players on the White Sox major league roster aren’t finished products just because they’re on the major league roster. Anderson, along with the likes of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and others, are still developing, still becoming the players they are projected to become when the franchise shifts from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

What we’re seeing now from Anderson could be another benchmark in his development. A guy who’s worked extremely hard in his three seasons in the big leagues could finally be seeing that work catching up.

“I kind of feel like the work finally caught up. I’m figuring out the glove and learning the position, figuring out how to play the position. It’s working, man,” Anderson said. “A lot of credit to Joe, he works with me every day and we get out there. It’s been good. Just honored and blessed to be in the position I’m in.”

There’s an obvious difference in the way Anderson is playing defensively right now, and it’s been pointed out by everyone in the organization. Pitchers have lauded how great he’s playing behind them, and in the midst of this losing campaign described by Hahn as “the toughest part of the rebuild,” both the general manager and manager Rick Renteria have pointed to Anderson’s defensive improvement as one of the big positives to come out of this campaign.

How has it happened? Again, work. The daily grind of the developmental process isn’t something that jumps out at any observer when a team plays every single day. But Anderson’s defensive development over the course of this season is perhaps as good an example as any of what the team’s big league staff is doing and how important their work is in crafting the planned perennial contenders of the White Sox future.

“I kind of challenged him and said, ‘I’m extremely proud of the progress you’ve made, let’s not stop, let’s not stop here, let’s take it to another level,’” McEwing said. “‘You say you want to be the best. What does that entail, as far as work-wise, maturity-wise, leadership-wise?’ I challenge him every day to be that leader, take over the infield, make sure everybody’s in the right spot, communicate constantly with each other. And he’s taken it to that level.

“I think he’s starting to understand his body more on the baseball field as far as what he can and cannot do. Before, it was almost, he was afraid to make that mistake. Now he’s just playing to where he’s not worried about making that mistake because he’s playing free.

“As far as understanding his body, he’s throwing from so many different angles now without fear. He’s confident in each throw, he’s confident where his feet are, he’s coming to get hops, he’s seeing hops better now to where (it’s either), ‘I’m going to get eaten up by that’ or ‘I’m going to go get it.’ I think he’s just understanding a lot more of who he is, and I could not be happier or prouder of him. He’s putting in the work every single day.”

There will surely still be plenty of questions heading into the 2019 season. Anderson will finish with new career bests in home runs, doubles, RBIs (he ranks second on the team in that category), stolen bases and walks, but he could finish with a career-low batting average and his second consecutive sub-.300 on-base percentage. He has more walks this season than in his first two seasons combined, but he also ranks in the top 25 in the majors in strikeouts.

But everyone you talk to in the White Sox organization sees improvement, and even from the outside it’s not difficult to notice, especially defensively. So when Hahn says that these young players aren’t finished products, he can point to Anderson as an example of the growth that can occur at the major league level.

And that ought to make fans far more bullish on Anderson's future — and the future of this entire rebuilding effort.

“Last year was a tough season overall, off the field. This year, it’s been great,” Anderson said. “I feel like I’ve been playing with that same energy all season and nothing changes. But I’m getting better.

“When I step over those lines, I feel like I’m the best player on the field, and that’s how I go about it. Nobody can beat me. I want to compete and be dominant every day, try to just go out and play hard and see what happens.

“Hopefully we can bring a championship to the South Side. We’ve got the pieces and got the players and got the guys down in the farm system. It’s going to be fun.”

Add another item to White Sox rebuilding to-do list: Matching Jose Berrios and dethroning the Twins

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USA TODAY

Add another item to White Sox rebuilding to-do list: Matching Jose Berrios and dethroning the Twins

Before the White Sox can worry about dethroning the Minnesota Twins — who despite the mathematically relevant presence of the Cleveland Indians appear to be steaming toward an AL Central title — they’ll have to cross plenty of other items off their rebuilding to-do list.

Rick Hahn’s front office needs to go to work this offseason, adding starting pitching and a left-handed bat of some consequence. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal need to be promoted to the major leagues. Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease need to go from learning-on-the-job rookies to the impact players their prospect rankings said they could be.

But if the White Sox roster, perhaps as soon as next season, blossoms into one capable of contending for a division title, there’s still the matter of besting the team currently at the hop of the heap.

The White Sox lost for the 12th time in 17 games against the division-rival Twins on Monday night, with a familiar face doing a familiar thing. Jose Berrios entered the night with a 2.40 career ERA against the White Sox, and that number got smaller with his 7.1 innings of two-run ball.

Things looked like they might have gone differently, with the White Sox scratching across a run in the first inning and James McCann hitting a home run to start the second. But that’s when Berrios reverted to All-Star form, and the White Sox offense did just about nothing the rest of the way. (It didn’t help, of course, that the White Sox made some shoddy plays in the field and ran into some outs on the bases, more things that need fixing on the way to contender status.)

Berrios, with his ERA down to 3.58 after Monday’s effort, is on pace to finish with a career best in that category. He hasn’t necessarily been the kind of pitcher that Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have been this season for the Houston Astros, but he’s a bona fide ace of an October-bound staff. And it’s those types of big-time players the White Sox will have to match and beat if they want to climb to the top of the baseball mountain.

It doesn’t look impossible, considering the White Sox already have an All-Star pitcher and an ace of their staff in Lucas Giolito, who was scheduled to pitch Tuesday in the Land of 10,000 Lakes before he was shut down for the rest of the year with a mild lat strain.

But cast your mind back to the last time he threw at Target Field, when he showed how dominant he can be, even against an offense as potent as Minnesota’s. Giolito twirled a complete-game, three-hit, 12-strikeout shutout in that game and welcomed the Twins to the South Side with six innings of two-run ball in the following start.

As the Verlander-Cole Astros are showing, though, it takes more than one ace to make a run at a World Series. The Twins are going to try — and that’s no knock on their pitching staff, just pointing out that they win games and, eventually, a division title by out-slugging their opponents. White Sox fans know it well, having seen Nelson Cruz hit enough feet of home runs at Guaranteed Rate Field this season to get all the way back to Minneapolis.

And so while Giolito might be able to counter a pitcher like Berrios, the White Sox will need an offense that’s able to beat him and his homer-happy teammates. Reynaldo Lopez wasn’t awful Monday night, but five runs against him was plenty to get the Twins past the silenced White Sox.

That’s where Jimenez and Robert and Madrigal and McCann and Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu are supposed to come in. Only McCann could muster an RBI hit against Berrios on Monday. Jimenez added his 28th homer of the season off Twins closer Sergio Romo in the ninth inning.

That’s a group of hitters that, while very promising, is still developing. White Sox brass keeps telling us that as good as Moncada and Anderson have been during their breakout seasons, they will keep getting better. Jimenez is on his way to 30 homers as a rookie but has generally had an up-and-down season offensively. Robert and Madrigal have yet to taste the major leagues. There’s room for all of them to get better, to form the core of a lineup that could have even pitchers like Berrios sweating, that could go toe-to-toe with a powerful lineup like the Twins’.

But that all has to fall into place. Until it does, unseating the Twins will remain on the to-do list, behind a few more pressing matters. Until it does, Berrios will keep pitching lights out and the Twins will keep hitting balls out. Those are the kinds of things division champs do.

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Lucas Giolito's remarkable 2019 season over as MRI reveals mild lat strain

Lucas Giolito's remarkable 2019 season over as MRI reveals mild lat strain

The best story of the White Sox season is coming to an early end.

According to reporters covering the team in Minnesota, Lucas Giolito is done for the year after an MRI revealed a mild lat strain.

As those reporters noted, the injury normally wouldn't be considered your typical "season ender," say if it occurred in the middle of the summer, but with only a couple weeks remaining in the 2019 campaign, this is it for Giolito.

What a remarkable season it was for the young right-hander, who went from the pitcher with the worst statistics in baseball last season to an All-Star, the ace of the South Side starting staff and a guy who could receive Cy Young votes.

Giolito was scheduled to face off against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night. Instead, he'll finish the season with a 3.41 ERA, 228 strikeouts and two complete-game shutouts against the Twins and Houston Astros, two of the best teams in the American League. He finishes with the seventh-highest single-season strikeout total in team history and the newly earned club record for the most consecutive strikeouts after he fanned eight straight Kansas City Royals in his most recent start.

While the White Sox have made it known that they'll be shopping for starting pitching this winter, they will head into the offseason with one top-of-the-rotation starter already in the fold in Giolito. His transformation, along with those of Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, provides a good chunk of the optimism that the 2020 campaign could be the one in which the White Sox make the transition from rebuilding to contending.

It's a bummer that White Sox fans will miss out on a couple more Giolito starts — especially against the Twins, who he shutout last time he faced them in Minnesota — but it's been a season worth celebrating for the 25-year-old and a season that should provide a ton of excitement for the future.

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