Anderson looks to build on '06 lessons
Outfielder knows spot hinges on offensive production
TUCSON, Ariz. -- As far back as Spring Training 2006, Greg Walker had an idea as to the trials and tribulations about to be heaped upon Brian Anderson during his rookie season.
But the highly-respected White Sox hitting coach couldn't exactly go on record with his exact thoughts. Walker also held out hope that Anderson's shortcomings where the mechanics of his swing were concerned would be overridden by his pure athletic ability in a lineup full of top-notch hitters.
"He had hit in Triple-A, and we weren't asking him to hit fourth. We wanted him to hit ninth and survive," Walker said. "But I was very concerned last year, I really was.
"If you go back and look at the notes, everything I said was Brian had a battle in front of him. Was I going to come out and say he is mechanically challenged and I don't like his chances? No. He's a physically gifted guy, and you don't have to be mechanically perfect to be able to hit in the big leagues."
Unfortunately for Anderson, talent did not win out for the first time in his athletic career. As position players report for Spring Training 2007, the story of Anderson's horrific first-season woes have been told, re-told and then told again one more time for good measure.
The team's 2003 first-round pick knocked out two hits, drove in two runs and scored twice in the season opener against the Indians -- a promising start, for certain. But by the time a June 6 contest against Detroit rolled around, a game in which Anderson struck out three times in four at-bats, the defensive stalwart in center was hitting .153 and looked to have his bags packed for a return trip to the Minors.
It was a game on June 7, where left-handed-hitting Rob Mackowiak earned the start in center, which really pointed out the dire circumstances of the situation in Anderson's own mind.
"When the day came that I didn't play against Kenny Rogers, and it was the middle of the season, I was thinking to myself, 'It's only a matter of time,'" said Anderson, taking a break from present workouts to briefly look back one last time at the misery of 2006.
"Basically, they were contemplating what to do and that's the only reason I was still there," Anderson added. "Fortunately, they stuck with me, and I was able to battle through, get my average up to a respectable level and end on a positive note."
A first season such as Anderson endured usually does one of two things to such an energetically confident young man. Either he dwells on a .225 average, with eight home runs, 33 RBIs and 90 strikeouts in 365 at-bats and remains a beaten man, or he works harder to prove he not only belongs but has the ability to excel at the Major League level. A bloodied but unbowed Anderson chose the second path.
During this past offseason, Anderson worked with Walker and first baseman Paul Konerko in Arizona on the changes implemented midway through last season to simply help him make it through the campaign. Anderson moved the bat out from behind his head, where it was wrapped and flat, and got it with more angle and out in front of him a little bit.
Most importantly, Anderson began to use his legs and lower half in the swing. These changes contributed in part to a .257 average after the All-Star break, and they also have helped return Anderson's bravado for the 2007 season.
"I definitely expect him to bounce back," Mackowiak said. "Your first year is so up and down and you are talking about a player who never had any failure. I expect Brian to be stronger offensively."
"Right now, I'm all positive and really feel awesome," Anderson added. "If you would have said Spring Training is about to start when the season ended last year, mentally I would have been like, 'Just go ahead and start without me. I'll catch up with you guys in a few weeks.' Not now. I have a personal chip on my shoulder just because I have something to prove to myself."
So, what statistics would define a good year on offense for Anderson? According to the 25-year-old native of Tucson, he should be able to do a little bit of everything. Don't ever expect a .320 average with 50 home runs from Anderson during his best year, but an average near .300 with a great deal of extra-base power and 20-or-so stolen bases would be squarely in the realm of possibilities.
For now, the White Sox would like to see the basic adjustments put in place by Walker become part of Anderson's natural rhythm. His effort during Spring Training is one of the crucial tests in regard to shaping the final roster decisions, with Ryan Sweeney and Jerry Owens also battling Anderson to stay at the Major League level.
Despite the clear-cut mechanical flaws in his swing, Anderson became the best choice for center field in 2006 because of his exceptional defensive ability. Those strong defensive attributes haven't been weakened, but both manager Ozzie Guillen and Walker need to see a little more from the bat with Anderson in order to keep him around.
"He's going to make it easy for everyone if he is the Brian we think he should be," said Guillen, who pointed out again that while Anderson didn't win many games for the White Sox with his bat in 2006, he certainly didn't lose any. "We have faith we can get him over the hump, just like what happened with Jon Garland, Neal [Cotts] and Joe Crede, and he has a chance to be a good ballplayer and make our team good for a long time."
"Our team was in a tough situation with Brian last year and we put him in a tough situation, but we knew it going in," Walker added. "But I saw him hit [this week] during early batting practice, and it's all very encouraging. His swing looked natural and mechanically correct. If I would have seen him like this last Spring Training, I would have been more optimistic about his chances."
Walker's words are a bit more on the positive side than his comments on Anderson from a MLB.com article one year ago to the day, when he addressed Anderson's "battle to survive" at the Major League level. But pessimism and concern over mechanics have been replaced by Anderson explaining how the ball was coming off his bat effortlessly to right-center during his first couple sessions of BP.
Of course, optimism is the rule rather than the exception at this time of year.
"There's no reason why I won't be out there every day if I show [Guillen] I made some adjustments and have a good spring," Anderson said. "I need to show him I deserve another shot."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.