By James Fegan
These are the go-to names when trying to recall the last above-average position players the White Sox drafted, developed and turned into above-average members of their regular lineup. Pitchers taken at the top of the draft by the Sox like Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon are contributing to the major league staff in no time, and even relatively stalled developmental projects turn into bullpen members like Nate Jones and Jake Petricka.
But White Sox position prospects, they just die on the vine.
If the excitement and buzz for Tim Anderson, an unpolished 22-year-old who might never post even an .800 OPS season in his career, and would still meet scouting expectations for his hitting, remember to place it in this context. The paucity of Sox positional prospects who have even played a significant role on the major league roster means Anderson’s arrival is still haunted by the ghost of Gordon Beckham, and rather than unbridled excitement for a promising replacement and the chance to see the top prospect in the organization, Anderson will have to dismiss concerns that he’s been rushed to the majors too quickly.
Anderson’s early assignments certainly won’t dissuade those worries. Just to be called up, Anderson had to unseat his Spring Training mentor and borderline Hall of Famer Jimmy Rollins right off the roster, and in his fourth game ever as a big leaguer, manager Robin Ventura unseated Adam Eaton – his regular leadoff man since 2014 – and stuck the rookie at the top of the lineup.
Anderson drilled one solid single in the sixth inning Monday night, pushing Dioner Navarro to third, from where he would eventually score on a sacrifice fly. When Melky Cabrera ripped a double down the right field line, Anderson’s legs suddenly whirred to life. You can look at a scouting report and see a note about plus-plus speed, and still watch a player for multiple games, especially a player still finding his place like Anderson, and wonder how often it will ever be relevant. Yet when Anderson flashed from first to third in an instant, with only the chains popping around his neck giving away how hard he was pushing, it seems like a nightmarish weapon that can change games.
That single was Anderson’s only hit of the night, and the first time he had reached base in three games.
These kinds of fits and starts should be expected for a while. Anderson was primarily focused on basketball until the latter half of his high school career, and only played two years at community college before being drafted. The time he has had to develop baseball skill pales in comparison to his peers, but his raw ability and knack for adjusting to new levels of play has always pushed him beyond where prudent management would leave him.
Anderson’s elite athleticism made it a natural choice to push him to shortstop, but he still has to prove he has the hand skills to stick there. His incredible bat speed portends power production in the future, but it will be a while before we know how consistent that will come, and while the focus on his paltry minor league walk rates failed to put his development in the right context, he will likely be swinging his way out of at-bats early on. He’s a prospect still, not a star.
Just two months ago, advocates of Anderson’s talent were preaching patience as he weathered a rough introduction to Triple-A; now he’s dealing with a an even rougher one. For a team that is desperate for any boost to their flagging playoff hopes, it’s an uncomfortable placement for a youngster that could frustrate as much as he wows to start. But if Anderson is not the savior, he can at least be the solace; a position prospect that will be worth the time to watch, even when the team isn’t.