Brian Anderson knows who he is as a hitter; he’s less sure of what kind of hitter he’ll be in the years to come. At 25 years of age with just 765 big-league plate appearances under his belt, the fourth-place finisher in last year’s NL Rookie of the Year balloting has a lot of growth in front of him.
Drafted by the Marlins out of the University of Arkansas in 2014, Anderson has displayed reliability, versatility, and a smooth right-handed stroke since arriving in Miami in September 2017. Manning both third base and right field, he finished the 2018 campaign with a .273/.357/.400 slash line and a team-high 34 doubles. Moreover, he was a mainstay in Don Mattingly’s lineup. Anderson was a spectator in just five games.
One thing he didn’t do often was leave the yard. Partly the result of playing in pitcher-friendly Marlins Park, Anderson homered a paltry 11 times. Which circles us back to the “what kind of hitter he’ll be in the years to come?” question. Anderson doesn’t lack raw power. It’s a matter of tapping into it more consistently as he continues to mature as a hitter.
Anderson discussed his gap-to-gap approach, as well as his long-ball potential, when the Marlins visited Fenway Park late last August.
Brian Anderson on hitting: “It’s about getting my pitches to hit. More specifically, getting good pitches within my approach and putting a good swing on them. It starts with my work in the cage, and then BP is for working on barreling the ball to all parts of the field. It’s for making sure that I’m hitting the ball the right way.
“Once I’m in the box, it kind of depends on the pitcher. Certain pitchers don’t throw to certain spots, and some pitchers are most vulnerable in certain spots. I like the ball more out over the plate. I like it more down in the zone and middle to middle away. That’s kind of the zone I try to lock in on, and I’ll try to drive that ball to right center. If I get hanging off-speed, or a heater in, then I’m (pulling the ball). Generally speaking, I’m more focused on the middle of the field.
“To start off the year, I got a lot of pitches out over the plate. Then a lot of pitchers started realizing they could go in on me. After that it was kind of up-and-in and down-and-away. They’ve adjusted to me just like I’ve adjusted to them. It’s been a bit of a back and forth all season.
“I kind of pick my times to look for a pitch inside. Sometimes I’ll tell myself, ‘Alright, if the pitcher is going to spot three fastballs inside, just let him have that one.’ But it’s not very often guys are going to be able to locate that pitch repeatedly. For me, it’s kind of playing the odds that I’m going to get a pitch out over the plate, as opposed to every pitch being outside of my approach.
“When I do get the head out on a pitch inside, and pull it, I have some power that way. It’s more that my focus — especially playing in the park that I do — is to move the ball up the middle and the other way. Then, whenever pitchers make mistakes over the middle — middle in and kind of elevated — I can turn on those balls. But it’s not something where I’m selling out and trying to pull the ball for a home run. I’m still focusing middle, because that gives me more room to miss. If I’m a little late I can go down the right field line. If I’m a little early I can go to left center.
“[Elevated fastballs] are something I need to get better at, and as I get more reps — as I get more experience — I’ll start to adjust more naturally. But I do work on that in the cage. I try to address it so that whenever I do react to that pitch in the game, I have the muscle memory kind of grooved out.
“Am I [the type of hitter I expected to be]? That’s a hard question to answer. Nobody actually knows what to expect when they get here. I don’t think I’m far away from who I think I am, but one season is too short of a time to know. Pitchers are going to keep adjusting to me, and I’ll have to keep adjusting to them. It’s a constant balance.
“I’m a baseball player. I think that ‘he’s this type of player, he’s that type of player’ is something that gets blown out of proportion at times. I’m just here to help my team win. If that means playing the outfield and trying to hit home runs… if that’s what they want me to do, then that’s what I’ll do. If they want me to play third base and try to hit singles, that’s what I’ll do.
“That said, I think a lot of people are … not scared to ask, but they maybe don’t want to ask me about not hitting home runs. I know that I haven’t hit that many since getting to the big leagues. My answer to that would be to say home runs come with experience. There are guys coming straight to the big leagues and hitting home runs, but for me it’s something I’m going to develop. It’s just a matter of learning when to take my shots and really driving the ball. I feel that I’ll be able to do that while staying within my approach.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.