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Thinking about White Sox prospect Tim Anderson

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In a recent All Questions Answered thread, a reader asked for an updated take on Chicago White Sox shortstop prospect Tim Anderson, wanting to know if my opinion had changed from pre-season.

Here is said pre-season opinion from the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book:

A wrist injury cut short Tim Anderson’s 2014 season, but he returned in time to hit .301/.343/.430 in 23 games in the Arizona Fall League. Drafted in the first round in 2013 from East Central Mississippi Community College, Anderson is a superb natural athlete with above-average to excellent attributes in all physical tool categories. Speed, check. Arm, check. Wiry strength, check. It is all here. Most observers believe he will emerge as a multi-skilled impact player.

I agree that is certainly possible, but the hype is getting a little out of control right now and someone needs to throw some cold water. As wonderful as Anderson’s tools are, he is still more athlete than baseball player. His strike zone judgment is dismal and he is very unreliable on defense at his stage.

Note: I am not saying that Anderson is a bad prospect; far from it. I like him a lot and he was one of the most intriguing players to come out of the 2013 draft. He could very well become an All-Star or at least a solid regular, but people really need to calm down here and keep short and even medium- term expectations reasonable. His BB/K/PA ratio was 9/82/345. Major league pitchers don’t care how good your tools are: if your sense of the strike zone is that bad, they will exploit it, and quickly. Give Anderson a little time to percolate. Grade B.

As you can see, there was some pushback against the common pre-season praise for Anderson. Has my view changed?

Yes and no. Anderson hit .312/.350/.429 this year for Double-A Birmingham in the Southern League, with 21 doubles, 12 triples, five homers, and 49 steals in 62 attempts. He continued showing the gap power and speed he demonstrated in 2014 and continued to draw very positive reviews from SL sources for his electrifying athleticism.

Although he still needs work getting more reliable on defense (he led the league in errors), his range and arm seem fine for shortstop and he actually cut his error rate substantially compared to 2014. My thinking is that this represents real progress with the glove and that he can be at least average at shortstop.

So it comes down to the bat. As noted above, he hit very well overall again. However, his BB/K ratio remained disappointing at 24/114 in 513 at-bats. He did improve some; his walk rate rose from 2.3% in 2014 to 4.4% this year, while strikeouts declined from 22.7% to 20.7%. That's still not very good, but it is a little better, and he didn't lose anything in terms of relative productivity, producing wRC+ marks of 121 both this year and last.

Scouting reports say that Anderson made some progress with pitch recognition this year but still swings at too many breaking balls outside the strike zone. Those reports are very much in accord with the numbers, so everything lines up both subjectively and objectively.

Bottom line: I still like Anderson. The tools are impossible to miss and impossible not to like. The glove looks considerably improved. He made just enough progress with the bat to slightly increase my confidence that he'll hit, but there are still significant doubts and the risk remains high. Ultimately I don't think this changes his grade from the "high-ceiling Grade B" pre-season, however I am open to arguments either way.