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.”