The vacancy on the White Sox's 40-man roster lasted three whole days. After outrighting Zach Stewart to Charlotte on Jan. 29, the Sox replaced him with a prospect who fell even further, Lars Anderson.
Anderson's story is familiar for fans who follow the minor leagues. He rose as high as No. 17 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list at as a 21-year-old in 2009, and it's been all downhill since. After Anderson was mired in a third consecutive unsuccessful season at Triple-A, the Red Sox dealt the first baseman to Cleveland at the deadline. The Indians didn't see anything to get attached to after a disappointing, concussion-shortened stint at Columbus, so they sent him to Arizona as the least significant piece in the eight-player Trevor Bauer trade. Then the Diamondbacks DFA’d him after the Justin Upton trade.
It's a tough three years wrapped up with an especially rough 12 months. But the White Sox gave him a pretty soft landing spot at the end of it all, because there is a major-league opportunity for him if he can make something of it.
History says he won't even come close to deserving one, but that he could "compete" for an Opening Day roster spot is a little troubling. I'm putting "compete" in quotes, because it doesn't seem like there's any feasible way he could build a case for it, but the lack of a favorite means he's not that far behind whoever the leader might be.
At the moment, the bench is three-fourths full:
- Backup catcher: Hector Gimenez / Bryan Anderson
- Utility infielder: Angel Sanchez
- Fourth outfielder: Dewayne Wise
The fourth spot is perfect for a left-handed hitting corner infielder. Anderson is left-handed, and he can handle one of the corners. It's the hitting part that's missing, even in a strict platoon scenario. He doesn't profile as a righty masher when you look at his splits over the past two seasons:
- vs. RHP: .262/.372/.416
- vs. LHP: .247/.335/.394
The OBP is nice, but for a hitter like Anderson, it doesn't usually transfer. MLB pitchers will go after a guy like Anderson until he proves that they shouldn't challenge him directly. So far, that hasn't been the case in his three brief big-league stints:
- vs. RHP: .195/.283/.220 over 46 PA
- vs. LHP: 0-for-7, two walks, one sac fly
Going through Anderson's history, it's easy to see why people were excited about him. The plate discipline is a skill. His name is Lars. His power never developed like expected, but he still flashes it from time to time. Look at the way he damaged the McCoy Stadium scoreboard:
He just can't make the kind of contact expected of a first baseman whose value rests entirely on his bat.
He's good to have in Charlotte, filling the Dan Johnson role. (And while we're thinking about Dan Johnson, Anderson has no other position. He tried left field last season, and it didn't go well.) Andy Wilkins will probably get priority at first if they're on the same roster, but the Knights are short a DH, too.
But unless Anderson's potential is latent and not dormant, he really doesn't do anything the Sox need. He hasn't hit, he can't run, and while he's a passable first baseman, the Sox don't need one of those. Jeff Keppinger can move to first if Paul Konerko is lifted for a pinch runner, and Dayan Viciedo has experience there, too. It's basically the same thing they did with Kevin Youkilis last year.
And yet here he is, "competing" for a bench role, because the position doesn't even have a firm job description yet. A left-handed corner infielder would be nice, but if they're comfortable with shifting Viciedo to first in a compromised situation, they might be better off carrying a fifth outfielder, even though Jordan Danks didn't have much of a purpose when Wise came aboard in August.
The possibilities are simultaneously endless and quite limited, and so I have a hunch that the player who ends up taking that last spot isn't in the organization yet. The Jed Lowrie trade shows that teams are still dealing, and the Sox might be waiting for a more decorated bench player to shake loose. Until then, we're left to squint at guys like Anderson and try to see something that really isn't there.