Tim Anderson's rapid rise from hoops to JUCO to first-round pick
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Three hundred sixty-seven days ago, Tim Anderson was playing shortstop for the Dodge City A's of the collegiate summer Jayhawk Baseball League and planning the visits he and his family would make to four-year colleges. He did not watch the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He didn't need to. He'd received no interest from professional teams during high school or his freshman season at East Central (Miss.) Community College and he knew his future as a pro ballplayer, if he had any at all, was a long way off.
Thursday night, he was emerging from the first-base dugout at MLB Network's Studio 42, his hands shaking with excitement as he missed a button on his brand-new White Sox jersey after Chicago took him 17th overall. The selection made him the second-ever junior college shortstop taken in the first round of the MLB draft (and the first since 1978, when the Expos took Glen Franklin ninth).
A year ago, if someone had come up to him after the game and told him what was in store for him, how would he have responded?
"I would've said, man, [you're out of your] mind," Anderson, 19, says with a laugh.
He looked utterly overcome all evening, as he struggled to remember when asked who had come to the draft to support him and forgot within seconds of hanging up the phone with White Sox officials whom he had just spoken with.
"I don't know," he admits. "I'm too excited to remember anything just now!"
He even cried a little -- the first time his parents said they had seen their even-keeled son lose his cool since childhood. And his family felt the same way -- he spent the evening with a splotch of makeup on his shirt collar from where his mother had hugged him too hard after his name was called, and his father announced after bragging about him that he hadn't talked that much in a year.
Their emotions are understandable, especially considering the path Anderson took to professional baseball. He played little league, but dropped baseball until his junior year of high school after suffering two knee injuries playing basketball, his other love. (Anderson sent video of himself dunking to scouts to demonstrate his athleticism.) Even then, he couldn't focus on baseball fulltime because his Hillcrest High School basketball team kept making the playoffs and delaying the start of his spring season.
He decided to choose one sport for junior college, and went to the only school that offered him a scholarship. After a freshman year in which he hit .360 and went 30 for 30 on stolen base attempts, albeit against low-level competition, he realized he had a shot to extend his career beyond a four-year college and redoubled his efforts. He broke out this year, leading all junior colleges with a .495 batting average, slugging .879 and stealing 41 bases. Suddenly there were scouts at every game to watch the All-America refine his play.
His parents credit East Central coach Neal Holliman with Anderson's dramatic improvements, but he deflects the praise. "There's no magic wand that we waved over him," says Holliman. "It's just a matter of a kid that's willing to work, that got reps, that got over into one sport and did it over and over and over and just continued to develop."
So his parents, brothers, sisters, sister-in-law and girlfriend were happy to pile into a van and make the 16-hour drive from Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday, watch the draft on Thursday and head back on Friday. They briefly considered not accepting MLB's invitation to attend the draft because they were concerned Anderson might be the last player left sitting in the dugout, but calls from scouts convinced them he had a good chance to go early.
He did, but it was the team that took him that had Anderson surprised.
"It shocked me, to be honest," Anderson says of being drafted by the White Sox, a club he never met with or worked out for. "I really didn't know."
Chicago, which sent several evaluators to watch Anderson in person, including executive vice president Kenny Williams and assistant general manager Buddy Bell, had been hoping he would get to them, though.
"He was our target," says White Sox scouting director Doug Laumann. "He elevated himself and his stock throughout the season and as it got closer we started to get a little nervous that maybe he wouldn't be the guy, but he's the guy we wanted."
The team recognizes that there is some ground for Anderson to make up in terms of experience, but considers him extremely polished given how little he has played. More importantly, Laumann says, he has the things they can't teach.
"His instincts for the game were just off-the-charts," he says. "He didn't need to look at base coaches in order to find out if the ball behind him was bobbled."
His timing is impeccable, as well: "They called my advisor," Anderson says, "And he texted me and said, Smile." And he did, just as commissioner Bud Selig called his name.