Drafted in the 18th round in 2006, Lars Anderson burst on the scene after a strong 2007. In 2008, Anderson did nothing to dispel his skyrocketing value, closing the year out with a .316/.436/.526 line in Double-A Portland in 41 games.
This year, Anderson has returned to Portland for what many thought would be a temporary situation. Instead, as the 21-year old struggles with adversity, he’s been leapfrogged in the SoxProspects.com prospect standings by Josh Reddick as the organization’s top bat.
While a line of .257/.350/.385 with eight home runs in 394 at-bats doesn’t exactly make one drool, Anderson’s hitting is too advanced to last. So what’s the problem?
Anderson said in the Boston Globe on July 10 that he’s struggling with a “lack of trust” in his abilities, while Portland manager Arnie Beyeler thinks it’s a matter of luck: the balls aren’t falling for a player who is already getting respect from opposing pitchers.
“I dont think my success or struggles can be pinpointed with just one thing [like a] lack or surplus of confidence,” Anderson told Fire Brand. “I think any outcome or result in baseball is a product of many factors.”
Confidence might be the one thing Alex Rodriguez doesn’t have in himself — confidence that he can be himself in an unforgiving environment. His lack of confidence is what has made him into a parody. His little excursion with Madonna… his kissing himself in the mirror. But Anderson doesn’t seem built that way, always questioning himself. “I go through phases of not having much confidence, but the majority of the time I am confident.”
Anyone think David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis might be able to show Anderson how to be confident under fire?
Anderson heads off any possible concern about his long-term abilities to hit under pressure, saying “I think I’ve always and still do have a feeling deep down that I will be a successful baseball player.”
One hopes so, but Anderson’s not sitting back and waiting to suddenly morph into a confident person. So how does Anderson work on improving his confidence? Well, for a rabid reader like Anderson, one turns to books.
He’s currently reading Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack and David Casstevens. Anderson also mentions Change the Way You See Everything and a Buddhist book called Remember, Be Here Now.
Anderson’s reading habits aren’t limited to just books related to confidence. In his spare time, you’re likely to see him nose-deep into a book, not browsing around for trade rumors, which he says he does not pay attention to. He reads often on the road, not surprising given those bumpy bus rides can take quite a while.
Some of his most recent books include David James Duncan’s My Stories as Told By Water and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. Anderson also has read Malcom Gladwell’s powerful book, Outliers. Anderson’s favorite part about Outliers? The chapter on pilots and how they communicate.
Okay, so he’s working on the confidence issue. What else does he have to work on?
Probably the same thing everyone always has to work on: execution.
“I do see a difference in the pitching between this year and last year, but I am still getting pitches to hit,” Anderson begins, explaining what he has had to deal with this year, which has only compounded his struggles. “I probably haven’t seen as many [pitches] per at-bat or game but it is still my job to execute when I do get that pitch. That is something i want to be more consistent with.”
Anderson saw with his own eyes how execution can pay off when former teammate Aaron Bates was promoted to the big leagues earlier this year. In 11 at-bats, Bates posted a line of .364/.417/.545 after kicking 2009 off in Portland with a .340/.405/.505 line.
“He was an awesome teammate and good friend and to see him get some big league at-bats was thrilling,” Anderson gushed.
Anderson brought up another teammate when talking about who impressed him: the aforementioned Josh Reddick.
“I think Reddick is one of the best hitters in this game,” said Anderson. “The ball comes off his bat with a different quality and sound than everyone else and he can hit any pitch from any pitcher.”
With Bates having received the call already and Reddick pushing for a promotion to Triple-A, is Anderson looking ahead at what he has to do? “In all honesty,” Anderson says, “I am trying to succeed in Double-A right now. I am not thinking about the big leagues too much at all.”
Anderson’s focus on Double-A notwithstanding, the “too much at all” qualifier certainly indicates it has crossed his mind. For a 21-year old supposed to solve the Red Sox’s power hitting problems, it can be a tough experience to grapple with slumping and trying to live up to expectations.
“I am learning how to deal with others and my own expectations,” Anderson says. “I am realizing what an interesting process this is, how it’s such a long process where I am continually growing and progressing. It’s not always easy, but thats what makes it interesting.”