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With the 2016 season underway, each team looks to compete immediately with the pickups they made in the offseason. But as we saw around the MLB in the 2015, the midseason callups can have as big of an impact as the players obtained in free agency. This series will detail the 5 prospects in the AL looking to make the biggest impact on their respective teams this season.
For the purposes of this series, we will set a few baseline criteria:
- The prospect cannot have any previous Major League experience prior to the 2016 season.
- The prospect must already be reasonably close to the MLB.
- The prospect must play a position of need for his big-league squad, and this need cannot be due to injury.
Be sure to check out the impact cases for the prospects previously covered:
4. Tim Anderson, CHW, SS
Back in 2013, the Chicago White Sox made shortstop Tim Anderson the 17th overall pick in the draft. Since then, he has returned on his promise as a prospect, and looks poised to debut in Chicago in 2016. As the #43 overall prospect in baseball, the very athletic Anderson has been aggressively pushed through the minors. The results have mostly been positive, with a sure-hitting approach and blazing speed. With the White Sox thin options at shortstop in the majors, and the possibility of becoming a surprise contender in 2016, Chicago may turn to the soon-to-be 23 year-old Anderson to man the position into the late summer and early fall.
Anderson is perhaps best known for his tremendous speed. Rated as plus-plus by MLB.com, Anderson stole 49 bases for a 79% success rate at AA Birmingham. His other talent of note is terrific bat speed and quick wrists, according him a consistently high BABIP due to a very high line-drive percentage. The combination of the two talents enabled him to leg out 12 triples, good for 3rd in the Southern League. While Anderson does not possess much power (rating as below average), the speed and line drive ability compensates for it, and he was still able to produce a .360 wOBA and a 121 wRC+ in 2015 in the somewhat pitcher-friendly Southern League.
The downfall to Anderson’s approach however comes with his plate discipline. Walking less than 5% of the time and striking out almost 21% is an undesirable ratio for someone of Anderson’s top-of-the-order profile. Unfortunately, his start in AAA Charlotte in 2016 does not seem to indicate that the problem was alleviated with offseason work. These numbers have declined to 2.6% and 29.3%, respectively, through 116 PAs. It’s possible that he is pressing, however, as his normally high batting average sits at a low .230, likely due to his uncharacteristically low .329 BABIP. If Anderson is trying harder to make solid contact due to unluckier and/or softer contact, it may have affected his pitch recognition and selection. As Anderson gains more experience at AAA, these numbers should normalize out, as bat speed typically translates to performance.
Lastly, Anderson’s glove at the valuable shortstop position typically rates as average. His speed and natural athleticism enables him quite a bit of range, but as he is relatively new to the position, (first playing baseball as a 16 year-old junior) his hands and footwork are not quite there yet. Reports indicate that his defense has improved steadily, and his arm has always been strong enough to make all of the throws necessary of a major-league shortstop. Essentially, it comes down to putting in enough work and repetition to become major-league ready. Should Anderson be unable to do so, he could easily transition to CF or 2B with his skill-set.
Anderson may well have one of the best mentors to allay his fielding woes, however, in Chicago’s current starting shortstop, Jimmy Rollins. Rollins, best known as one of the centerpieces of the great Phillies teams of the mid-2000s, signed a minor-league contract with the White Sox this spring. Ultimately, Rollins won a spot and went north with the team. While Rollins was an excellent player and certainly a great resource for Anderson, his production in 2016 plays a part in Anderson’s potential impact this season. Through 103 PA, Rollins has registered a wOBA of .274 and a wRC+ of 70, both far below average. While his plate discipline remains impressive (almost 9% walk rate with a 17.5% strikeout rate), his speed and power seem to be fading, with 3 SB in 5 tries and only 7 XBHs. Rollins remains a very valuable player and role model on the team, but his production as a starter may ultimately hurt the White Sox as the season progresses.
Rollins’s current backup, the young Tyler Saladino, does not profile much better in the starting role. Coming from the glove-first shortstop mold, Saladino generated a .264 wOBA and 61 wRC+ in 2015 in 254 PAs. In 2016, through an obviously small 35 PA sample, he has a .210 wOBA and 24 wRC+. These are accompanied by small walk rates (<5%) and low power (SLG < .340). While he has played limited innings at shortstop (144 total, a very small sample for defensive statistics) the past two years, Saladino has rated as being worth about 15 runs above average on a yearly basis so far this year. This however, contrasts with the much below average ratings he received last year, indicating that it could all be noise and making a final judgement difficult. All told, between his very weak bat and skepticism over his defense at shortstop, Saladino does not appear to be a markedly better option than Rollins.
Walk-Off Hit: Tim Anderson 2016 Impact Outlook
The Chicago White Sox have surprised many this year by jumping out to a 23-11 start, good for first in the American League as of May 10th. They have done this largely on the back of good pitching, as their offense got off to a cold start, although has clawed back to 6th in the AL in OPS since. As they progress through the season as surprise contenders, one of the main positions they will look to upgrade is shortstop, where 37 year-old veteran Jimmy Rollins is beyond his prime years, and back-up Tyler Saladino offers little with the bat. While young prospect Tim Anderson is untested and unproven, his dangerous speed, both with the bat and on the basepaths, may offer a solution to the anemic production from the position. Anderson will find himself under the fantastic tutelage of Rollins, who has been a mainstay at the position for the past 17 seasons. Should Anderson be able to improve his plate discipline and defense, two of Rollins’s excellences, he could become a bona fide top-of-the-lineup hitter, with solid defense at a valuable position to boot.
Another thing to note of Anderson, as mentioned at the end of the Glasnow impact case, is the seeming resurgence of the shortstop position in the MLB. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Addison Russell, Orlando Arcia, J.P. Crawford, Dansby Swanson and Anderson are a collection of the young, well-rounded shortstop prospects that debuted in 2015 or are looking to debut in 2016-2017. This harkens back to the ’90s when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra among others were taking up the mantle and becoming the faces of the game. Anderson’s cohort could make for very interesting baseball as they all mature, and will certainly be fun to watch develop.
What do you think? Will Tim Anderson become the shortstop of the future for the White Sox? Will Chicago be able to continue to contend without production from the shortstop position? Are the current shortstop prospects some of the best the game has seen? What other prospects do you think belong on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @SaberBallBlog. Don’t forget to subscribe to SaberBallBlog by clicking the green “Follow” button in the menu, and follow on Twitter for all of the latest updates on the MLB!