By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The summer of 2019 has seen the Chicago White Sox enjoying one of their most promising seasons in recent memory.
It has been a long rebuild after years of mediocrity, so why not celebrate? One of the Sox’s best reasons to feel good about the team’s present and future — shortstop Tim Anderson — would likely agree and given a chance to both celebrate and do some good for local children recently, the slick fan favorite was as easygoing as he typically is turning a double play or celebrating a game-turning hit.
Among a good amount of young and talented players starting to develop for the South Siders, Anderson more than holds his own as an attention-getter. Some would say his current ascendance comes in due time.
Anderson could be considered first of the current generation of talented Sox prospects to come from the minors with a mind on turning the franchise around from the post-World Series doldrums that have enveloped the team much of the last decade.
His fourth season in the majors has been a strong one, seeing Anderson finishing just outside the finalists for the All-Star game voting in a very competitive American League shortstop field.
Things haven’t been perfect, or necessarily smooth, for Anderson en route to this point of potential all-stardom, and he would be the first to tell you that. An ankle injury on June 25th against the Red Sox has kept Anderson off the field, but the current All-Star break allows for perfect timing for him to get healed up before the start of hopefully another great half of baseball.
Anderson was hot out of the gate this year and was named AL Player of the Month in April, the first time a Sox player had done so since first baseman Jose Abreu in 2014.
Anderson started to trend as a player the MLB should keep its eye on. His play made for a terrific redemption story after a horrible personal loss on May 7, 2016, when his dear friend Branden Moss was shot down in Anderson’s native Tuscaloosa, AL. It was a jarring hit to Anderson’s psyche and his game on the field; understandably, he was not at his best. After getting some help and time to heal, he has changed both at the plate and off the field. Once Anderson was able to get over the shock and some of the pain, both he and his wife, Bria, decided to become more involved in youth-focused charities.
The Andersons, mother and father of two children of their own, hosted a Summer Celebration youth group event last Friday at the Donnelley Youth Center in Bronzeville, a few long flies from Guaranteed Rate Field.
Even with a slight hitch in his giddy up from the ankle injury, Anderson had his ever-present big smile as him and his wife walked around interacting with the kids. Anderson explained how much being with the kids meant to him.
“I want to be here, its only right that I’m here in the city and give these kids what they need as far as you know help and love and support. I didn’t have that as much growing up so I think its only right to do it,” he said.
En route to becoming a great leader, a person must go through adversity and conquer it like Anderson.
These tough life lessons have helped turn Anderson into the person and player he is today.
What a great ride it has been for Sox fans this season after three years of a rebuild. Back in 2016, Anderson got his start but he also saw the rebuild take on its tough early days when pitcher Chris Sale was traded weeks after the end of the ‘16 season in December. Anderson and the Sox went through a roster purge in 2017 and 2018 while going a measly 129-195 in the process, but thanks to contributions from a bunch of recent call-ups, a career turnaround for new All-Stars James McCann and Lucas Giolito, and the continued star play of Abreu, as well as Anderson, the Sox are a dangerous team in the AL currently and within shouting range of an AL wild-card spot.
In the month of April, Anderson’s slash line of .375/.394/.615 and a cool OPS of 1.009 was fifth-best in baseball. After showing flashes of his ability in seasons prior, 2019 began to look like the year that he puts all his talents together. He has continued to hit well, even with a slight cool off from his hot start, entering the all-star break with a slash line of .317/.342/.491. Anderson’s slugging has come down significantly but he still projects to hit over 20 home runs, which would be a career high.
WAR is looked at as one of the best barometers of a player’s total value, Anderson’s previous best WAR in a season was 2.1, he is on pace to shatter that sitting at 1.7 with about a half season left to go. It shouldn’t be forgetten also what the 26-year-old brings to the team outside of his on-field production.
Earlier this year Anderson was the talk of the baseball world after a couple run-ins with the Kansas City Royals stemming from his showy bat flipping. In a way this conflict galvanized the team to come together around Anderson and utilize the swagger that has become associated with him.
Leadership is a mindset and Anderson explains what changed for him.
“It just happened, but I was good at making adjustments and you know just taking more responsibilities and you know basically build an identity for the team,” he said at the Summer celebration.
Currently the Sox sit 12.5 games back of first place in the AL Central and seven back of the last wildcard spot. Contending doesn’t seem likely unless the team goes on a prolonged stretch of winning, but with how much promise the team has shown, the expectations will be high for 2020.
The second half of the season promises to be intriguing for Sox fans. Though contention seems far off, it’s likely more prospects will be called up as well as the continued development of players like Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Giolito and Anderson. Getting off to a strong start is important in baseball but the cliche is that the regular season is not a sprint, but a marathon.
Can Anderson find a way to repeat that same success heading into 2020? The future is about to become the present and the pressure to win for the White Sox will hit a new level. Once all the talented young prospects are in the majors, the window of contention starts.
It’s a great time to be a Sox fan and everyone should soak up the positive vibes before expectation rears its ugly head. That is why seeing Anderson level up from an average major league player to a potential All-Star is so encouraging. To him and his teammates, it’s all about keeping perspective.
“These fans are excited, we are excited and you know we are just going to keep rallying around each other and keep having fun and keep taking it one day at a time,” he said.
Enjoy the ride that Anderson and these White Sox players are on. Something special could be right around the corner.
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