Anderson refuses to get in his own way
Prospect even-keeled despite going hitless in first 18 at-bats
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The at-bats have started to pile up, but the hits have not.
Heading into Saturday's game against the Pirates, first-base prospect Lars Anderson had gotten plenty of playing time, 18 at-bats to be exact. He's yet to pick up his first base hit, walking in his only plate appearance Saturday. Sure, it's just early Grapefruit League action, but any 22-year-old trying to make an impression is bound to start to press a little.
Anderson, as has been well-documented, is not the typical 22-year-old. Best described as a deep thinker, he certainly marches to the beat of a different drummer. Most of that works in his favor, but there are times, like when he is struggling, when he can be his own worst enemy.
"I'm just working on trying to be present in the field and at the plate and in life," Anderson said. "I'm also trying to get into my body and out of my head. I've always thought a lot playing baseball and I've always kind of gotten away with it. I think that's not the path I want to be on while I'm playing."
Aaron Bates has the locker right next to Anderson in big league camp, but the pair of first basemen have a longer history than that. Both are products of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and attended instructional league together that fall. Bates, too, looks at things a little differently than most, something that brings the two together.
"He's definitely a thinker and can be analytical," Bates said. "He's a well-rounded guy. Anybody can get over-analytical. I get that way, too. Maybe that's why we get along so well. Sometimes the best thing is to just go up there and whack the ball as hard as you can."
Anderson has been trying to adhere to that this spring as much as possible. He's gotten some plaudits for getting some good hacks in at times, even if he doesn't have the results to show for it.
"Some, and then there are some where he's in-between," manager Terry Francona said about Anderson's swings. "I know he gives [hitting coach Dave Magadan] a lot of things to talk to him about in the cage. He's a young player who's still learning. Sometimes it doesn't carry over into a game at Spring Training.
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"All the things I said at the beginning of the spring, I believe. I think he's situated to have a good, strong year. He's stronger, what he went through last year will be good for him. He's just not getting hits in big league camp."
What he went through last year was the first prolonged stretch of struggles he's encountered in his professional career. He entered the 2009 season with a .304 average and was coming off a year that saw him reach Double-A at age 20 and hit a combined .317/.417/.517 (average/on-base/slugging). His star was on the rise and he was seen as a young hitter who might help in Boston sooner rather than later.
Things in 2009 started off well enough, with Anderson returning to Double-A and hitting .293/.341/.453 in the season's opening month. He struggled in May and had a decent June before the wheels came off a bit and he limped to a .154/.250/.208 line in the second half of the season.
"In a baseball season, lots of stuff comes up, mechanically and mentally," Anderson said. "Any time you struggle, you feel like you have 12 things going on at the same time. It's hard for me to pinpoint any one thing in any time that I've struggled in my career. It doesn't feel like one thing. It's really hard to see what is going on. Maybe there's one thing that I could correct for all 12 things that you feel are going wrong. Usually, you just come out of it.
"My business is staying consistent. It's not trying to find ways to stop struggling. My way is to stay consistent, whether I'm playing well or playing poorly, so I have the same approach and same mindset."
During this offseason, Anderson traveled extensively through Europe and Canada. Typically, Anderson will try to broaden his horizons with trips domestically to see some of this country's mountains or desert. This was his second trip to Europe, his first since he was just 12. It wasn't, though, a situation where he was trying to escape the game after a rough season.
"I never think of it as getting away," Anderson said. "Baseball is always with me. I don't feel like, 'Oh, I have to get away from baseball.' I don't feel that way. I still think about baseball when I'm traveling. It's a part of me."
There's no question he showed up to camp this year ready to go, in terrific shape, stronger than he's been in the past. And he came in with a better knowledge of what big league camp was all about after getting 24 at-bats and hitting .208 a year ago.
"I think I'm a little more comfortable this year," Anderson said. "I know the staff better, I have more of a relationship with them. I have more of a relationship with some of the players, so it wasn't so much of that being in a room where you don't know anybody, that I had last year. That's been really nice. Both have been cool experiences in their own right."
It says something about Anderson that he would be starting at an 0-for-18 clip and call it a cool experience. The fact he's so analytical can be detrimental in such a situation, sure, but his understanding of the larger world around him may also help him not get too stressed about a slow Grapefruit League start.
"You just have to get your work in and not worry about the result," Bates advised. "The best hitters do that. You have to try and put it in perspective. What's failure in Spring Training? You hit the ball hard to the shortstop and make an out while you're working on something? For him, he has to try and step back when he can.
"Every at-bat is an opportunity to show what you can do."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.