You walk in to Pirate City, and the first thing you look for is a roster sheet. You look for a roster sheet because players wear nothing but a number on their jerseys, with no names, and nothing to signify who the player is, outside of the difference that pitchers wear white pants, and hitters wear gray pants. It’s not just the fans that need roster sheets. Players don’t even know the names and numbers of every player in camp, a number which is over 150 players. That said, there is one player that is easy to spot, and no roster sheet is necessary to identify him.
That player is Calvin Anderson, the big 6′ 7″, 240 pound first baseman, selected in the 12th round of the 2008 draft. Anderson towers over everyone. I’m 6′ 4″, and standing next to Anderson was one of the few times in my life where I’ve felt short. You would think that the huge size would make Anderson a power threat. To date, that hasn’t completely worked out as expected. In just over 1000 career minor league at-bats, Anderson has 29 home runs, and a .422 slugging percentage, which aren’t the numbers you want from a first baseman.
Anderson started off the season on a strong note, hitting for a .296/.363/.456 line, with nine homers in 270 at-bats. By the end of June, he was drawing consideration for my top 20 prospects, assuming he could keep the pace up, and cut down on his 31% strikeout rate. Then, due in part to a knee injury, Anderson finished the season with a .206/.280/.304 line, with two homers in 194 at-bats.
“I hurt my knee after July,” Anderson mentioned in reference to his second half struggles. “It still is kind of bugging me to this day. Not trying to blame it on my knee, but that had a lot to do with me being healthy every day, and go out there every day with the same attitude.”
The second half struggles could create a problem for Anderson in 2011. The Pirates have drafted college first basemen in each of the last two seasons, taking Aaron Baker in 2009, and Matt Curry in 2010. Baker spent the 2010 season in West Virginia, and is ready to move up. Curry could be the best of the three, and will also contend for a spot in high-A. There is a spot open for a first baseman in Altoona, although Anderson’s hitting in high-A last year, specifically his 30% strikeout rate, could prevent him from moving up at the start of the season.
That creates a jam at the start of the year, and the Pirates seem to be breaking up that jam by moving Anderson to the outfield.
“I think Baker and Curry are going to get everyday at-bats at first base to start the year,” Pirates’ director of player development Kyle Stark said, in reference to the logjam at first base. “Anderson is probably going to be looking at more outfield at-bats. Now whether we jump Baker to AA and Curry goes to high-A, or whether we start with both of those guys in A-ball and look to move them. I think the goal is, by the end of the year, both of those guys will have moved.”
The decision to move Anderson to the outfield isn’t entirely due to the other first base options the Pirates have in A-ball. It’s also to help Calvin.
“Calvin’s upside is going to be dictated by his bat, and so we’ve got to make sure his bat’s playing,” Stark said. “First base is hard for him. So the thought process is getting him away from the ball where he can free up a little bit, and the defense doesn’t wear on him as much, then maybe the bat plays a little bit more. So it’s trying to maximize his potential as much as it is other roster decisions.”
Anderson has only been playing the position for three weeks, and as would be expected, the adjustment has been a little slow. While watching him the other day, I saw a line drive hit towards him that somehow managed to find it’s way over his head. The liner was one of those hard to judge hits, even for established outfielders, but it didn’t help that Anderson made the mistake of taking his first step in, rather than back.
Getting used to fly balls is one of the biggest adjustments Anderson has had to make in his move to the outfield, but a bigger one could be the change in pace from first base to the outfield.
“At first base you’re involved in every play in the infield,” Anderson said, talking about the biggest adjustments he’s had to make. “Outfield you can go probably 3-4 innings without seeing any action, and then once you do it’s a ball you’ve got to go back on.”
“It’s going alright right now. All it is, is just a confidence thing with me. Once I feel comfortable in the outfield, I think it will come smoother for me out there. Right now I feel like the more I’m out there, the more they keep running me out there during Spring Training games, taking fly balls, get used to judging fly balls, I think I’ll settle in. As of right now it’s only been like three weeks, so it’s going ok.”
The Pirates are attacking Anderson’s hitting at both ends, as Stark puts it. A big issue is finding a way to cut down on his high strikeout rate.
“I think anytime you talk about strikeouts, you’re talking about two factors,” Stark said about Anderson’s high strikeout rate. “One is how did they get there, and what did they do once they got to two strikes. Part of it with Calvin is hitting his pitch before he gets to two strikes, and not fouling something off, or swinging and missing. And then with two strikes it’s changing the approach with the bat a little more.”
“It’s about being aggressive,” Anderson said, describing what he’s working on at the plate. “Being aggressive and not being too overly aggressive at times. Not just going up there and swinging at the pitcher’s pitches, swinging at something you can handle. We worked on my hands a lot, and changed my hand placement so I could get my hand moving toward the ball, instead of guessing at what’s coming. And that’s what we’ve been working on so that I can be more successful at the plate.”
Aside from hand placement, the Pirates are also working on a load for Anderson at the plate.
“I’ve never really had a load before, and that’s going to help me with my strikeouts, and that’s going to help me with my power, and we’ve been working on that constantly. I’ve had a pretty good Spring so far.”
Anderson previously hit from the standstill position, rather than a load, which will allow him to generate momentum through his swing. Between the load, the hand adjustments, the general change in aggressiveness at the plate, and the move to the outfield, you could say that Anderson is a completely different player coming in to the 2011 season.
“For me, at least, it’s good for me to learn other positions, and be able to take outfield as a position that I’m ok at,” Anderson said. “I take it as a good thing that I’m moving to the outfield because I can play outfield and first base, rather than first base.”
The Pirates have long term openings in the majors at first base and the outfield, so any sort of surprise season from Anderson would be a welcome sight. Anderson has definitely made the adjustments this off-season to try and get his career back on the right track. Now we just have to see if those adjustments will pay off in the form of fewer strikeouts and more power.