The Indians acquired Lars Anderson from the Red Sox on Tuesday, sending knuckleballing prospect Steven Wright — not to be confused with this guy — to Boston. Anderson was once considered one of the top prospects in the game, but struggled in major league cups of coffee (or shots of espresso given how short his major league stints were in 2011-12) and was never viewed as a viable long-term solution at first base or designated hitter.
From 2008-10, however, he was the talk of the rumor mill. His name popped up in practically every Red Sox trade rumor. Last offseason, the Athletics were interested in him as part of the Andrew Bailey package. In July 2011, the Athletics were close to acquiring him in exchange for Rich Harden.
In 2009, Anderson was frequently discussed as part of a potential prospect package for Roy Halladay. The year before that he was mentioned as a key part of a rumor surrounding then-Padres starter Jake Peavy.
As recently as two years ago, Anderson was viewed as a key part of potential returns on all-stars and award winners. Since then, his stock has fallen to the point that he only netted the Red Sox a risky Double-A knuckleballer.
Baseball America ranked Anderson #40 in their 2008 preseason rankings. He hit .317/.408/.513 at High-A Lancaster that season before making the move up to the Eastern League and improving to a .316/.436/.526 line. He shot all the way up to #17 on their 2009 list, but struggled in a full season with Portland.
Anderson hit just .233/.328/.345, a big step back. He fell all the way to #87 entering 2010, and stopped appearing on lists after that. He hit .355/.408/.677 with Portland to start the season but spent most of the year at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a pedestrian .262/.340/.428 line.
His Triple-A numbers have essentially stabilized since then, as he hit .265/.369/.422 last year and currently sports a .259/.359/.415 line. While the on-base percentage is nice, Anderson’s power has disappeared, which makes it much tougher to stick at his natural position. He still features the physical tools that made scouts gush over him in the first place, and he is still young at 24 years old, but he hasn’t lived up to the hype.
With Adrian Gonzalez signed for the foreseeable future and Anderson’s stock on the decline, the Red Sox had to pull the trigger while he could still bring back even someone like Wright. But one man’s trash could become another man’s treasure, and it just so happens that the Indians have had some of the worst first base production in baseball this season. With a putrid .286 wOBA from first baseman, primarily Casey Kotchman, the Indians have the third worst first base batting line in baseball, and the second-worst in the AL: only the Mariners have fared worse.
Anderson isn’t likely to play much in the majors this season, and might not even fit the Indians plan for 2013, but he gives them some more depth at an obvious position of need. He also has an option left, so the Indians don’t need to immediately procure a big-league roster spot for him. Since he was on the Red Sox 40-man roster, the Indians will have to make a corresponding move, but in any event he’s bound for minor league duty until September, when it makes more sense to give him regular at-bats.
He has always toted solid plate discipline skills and his first-base defense has improved in recent years as well. But Anderson has struggled to make contact as he progressed throughout the Red Sox farm system, and while the power is obviously there when he connects — he hit a prodigious home run off of the scoreboard at McCoy Stadium this year — connecting has been a struggle in and of itself.
The Indians bolstered depth at an area of need with this move, picking up a young-ish prospect previously considered one of the very best in baseball. But his power has never truly materialized and his defense isn’t going to be enough to earn him an everyday gig without more consistent and improved offensive production. Anderson may yet figure it all out, but he hasn’t made the appropriate adjustments in three years at Triple-A. Right now he remains a cross-your-fingers flier instead of a viable solution at an area of need.