Anderson happy with career-altering decision
Sox former first-round pick excited about his future on the mound
CHICAGO -- The decision was already made, but Brian Anderson still traveled to Terry Bross' house to discuss his planned move from the outfield to the pitcher's mound.
At that point, Bross, Anderson's representative, tried to talk him out of the change.
"I did try to talk him out of it," said Bross. "But at the end of the day, I just felt like Brian was not happy.
"He came over to my house, and we sat down on the couch and I said, 'Listen dude, at some point you need to be happy. If you really are not happy -- and not happy as a fourth outfielder -- and feel your future is as a pitcher, who am I to tell you what to do? I think it's a mistake. But if you do it, let's move forward and not look back.'
"Brian has a great arm, and I knew that. But it's a big transition from having a great arm to becoming a great pitcher."
To be honest, neither Bross nor Anderson ever really envisioned his Major League Baseball career standing behind throwing fastballs instead of hitting them. But as Spring Training '12 begins, a healthy Anderson is looking to make a contribution out of some team's bullpen.
That opportunity certainly won't happen immediately, not with Anderson, 29, coming off of surgery in June to relieve severe pain in his arm caused by thoracic outlet syndrome. Anderson had the first rib under his collarbone removed, the rib that was compressing a nerve and causing the pain.
Having this procedure leaves Anderson hopeful that his fastball will return near 95 mph, where it would once again operate at an optimum level. He rehabbed in Texas during this past offseason, and has drawn interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers for a Minor League deal without a big league Spring Training invite.
"It might sound arrogant, but I know how good I am at pitching," Anderson told MLB.com during a recent interview. "I'm extremely talented on the mound, and I want to prove it to people.
"Some people might think this is a joke, and wonder 'Why doesn't he just retire?' Well, they are entitled to their own opinions. I appreciate all the support fans showed me in Chicago, and how they really stuck by me. Hopefully in my new pursuit, in my new dream that I want to pursue, I hope they will give me a chance. If some people don't, I don't care. My attitude is so much different."
Anderson's Major League Baseball journey officially began in 2003, when the Arizona native was selected by the White Sox in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft. With his bravado and his five-tool potential, featuring a strong defensive presence, Anderson looked to be the White Sox center fielder of the future -- something that should have carried him through to the present.
After the trade which sent Jim Thome to the White Sox and Aaron Rowand to the Phillies, Anderson moved into the starting lineup for the defending World Series champs in 2006. Not much pressure there on the young talent.
A decent second half with the bat in 2006 pushed Anderson to a still subpar .225 average, with eight homers and 33 RBIs. Over parts of the next three seasons, Anderson struggled to make the White Sox roster and find consistent at-bats, before he was traded to the Red Sox in 2009. Those 202 at-bats in 2009 appear to be his last regular-season trips to the plate as a position player.
Anderson's job change came in Spring Training 2010 with the Royals. Despite having an impressive Cactus League run at the plate, Anderson didn't make the team and told Kansas City's brain trust that he wanted to become a pitcher. Anderson's only other mound experience came at the University of Arizona in 2002.
How did Anderson know it was time for a move and not just something stemming from years of frustration about missing his full potential offensively? There was one particular game in Tucson that provided the answer.
"In four innings, I hit for the cycle and I went home with the same attitude as if I finished 0-for-4 and had a couple of punchouts," Anderson said. "I was not excited anymore, and my heart wasn't in it.
"Due to a lot of different reasons, I mentally checked out. My personality better suits me as a pitcher. Playing a position to me is a dead issue. That ship has sailed, and my heart is set on pitching."
After pitching one season for the Royals -- beginning on July 4, 2010, for the Arizona League Royals and working his way up to Triple-A Omaha through 17 1/3 innings -- Anderson was never called up to the Majors. He received "a huge honor" when the Yankees invited him to Spring Training in 2011, but Anderson's velocity was already dropping because of his arm issues.
Surgery corrected that problem, as was witnessed by Brad Arnsberg, a Major League pitching coach who caught a handful of Anderson's rehab bullpens in Texas.
"Each time I caught him, he got better and better over the three or four weeks," Arnsberg said of Anderson, who stuck with mostly fastballs during his bullpens. "He's a heater/cutter guy anyway, but he was moving the ball from side to side. He got a feel for it."
"Right now, he just has to pitch consistently and keep building up," Bross added. "He'll work his way back. I have a feeling he'll play in the big leagues at some point this year."
No regrets exist for Anderson over his past life as a center fielder. He holds mostly positive memories from his time with the White Sox, and a few he would like to forget. But Anderson has no regrets about making his career-changing choice.
"I've been wrong before, and I could be wrong again. But I don't think I am," Anderson said. "If I had a decent rookie year [in 2006], all the other stuff would have taken care of itself. I don't point the finger at anyone but myself. But I've never been happier."