Max Anderson, the Detroit Tigers' second-round draft pick, doesn’t look like a prototypical MLB prospect.
His headshot in the Nebraska media guide looks like he should be playing in a rock band, not on a baseball field.
The photo featured thick, shaggy hair, giving off an easy-going vibe.
“You're gonna love him,” Nebraska coach Will Bolt said. “He is like a grown-up 8-year-old. I mean, he is just happy-go-lucky. I'd have to remind him to get a haircut because I would tell him, 'Hey, first-rounders don't have hair looking like yours.' ”
Of course, he wasn’t a first-rounder, so there’s that. Mainly because he doesn’t have a first-rounder's body or tools.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Anderson is not tall or cut or muscular.
“He’s not your prototypical high-waisted, long-legged, short-torso body that you see with athletes,” Bolt said. “His hips are a little wider. I mean, he just doesn't necessarily look the part of a chiseled 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete.”
Anderson has some chin music going on — the start of a goatee that stopped on the bottom of his chin and didn’t have the strength, momentum or desire to climb over the top and reach his lip.
“And he’s got the goggles,” Bolt said.
Yes, he plays with goggles. The Kurt Rambis of college baseball. “It helps me a lot,” Anderson said. “They hold superpowers.”
And he laughed.
“He doesn't take himself too seriously, which is a very fun trait to be around,” Bolt said.
Anderson doesn’t have a super-strong arm. Doesn’t have incredible footspeed — some say it’s below average. Doesn’t have great range.
And you know what I say: Who the heck cares?
Because Anderson can do the one thing that the Tigers are looking for, more than anything else: Hit.
“He doesn't really look the part necessarily,” Bolt said. “But this guy's the best hitter I've ever seen, and he's the best I've ever coached, and that includes playing against great players in the SEC and coaching great players in the SEC.”
Let’s stop right there and let it sink in:
Best he’s ever coached.
Best he’s ever seen.
And it sounds like hyperbole, until you dig into the numbers.
The 21-year-old hit .414/.461/.770 with 20 doubles, two triples, 21 home runs and 70 RBI in 57 games as a junior at Nebraska.
Just ridiculous stats.
But within those numbers are some even more impressive stats.
“For me, the thing that was so impressive is, now that you can kind of quantify it with the analytics and the data side of it,” Bolt said. “He hit every type of pitch well. He hits velocity. Hits slow stuff. Hits lefties. Hits righties. He hits the low pitch; he hits the high pitch. To me, the hit tool, for me, it's as good as it gets.”
The more this coach talked, the more I started falling in love with this pick.
Which brings us a new layer to the mantra of Scott Harris, the Tigers' president of baseball operations:
Harris couldn't care less what you look like.
He couldn't care less how old you are — whether you are young or old.
Couldn't care less if you are tall or short, muscular or not.
Couldn't care less if you grew up playing in the north or south.
And he couldn't care less if you have goggles and a shaggy haircut, or eye black and long, flowing blond hair like first-rounder Max Clark.
If you can swing it, they can find a spot for you in the Tigers organization.
“He was just born to hit a baseball,” Bolt said. “He's been given an amazing gift of hand-eye coordination and body control.”
There’s even a story behind those 21 homers.
“If you'd told me before the season, 20 home runs, I would have said, 'Wow, that may be a bit much,' ” Bolt said. “But then, looking back at his sophomore year, he hit 10 homers and I bet he flew out to the warning track another seven or eight times. Just another year and a little bit stronger, I think some of those balls started going out of the park.
“The amount of hard-hit balls that he had was pretty astounding. Just getting a barrel there very consistently. He just kind of figured out a way to elevate the ball to the big part of the field.”
His strength is his curse
Anderson took a strange journey to this spot.
He was part of the COVID wave, one of those players whose career changed dramatically during the worldwide pandemic.
Originally, he signed with Texas A&M.
“He’s got incredible hand-eye coordination and great bat to ball skills,” said Rob Childress, who was coaching Texas A&M. “And it's the thing that's always stood out to me above him even when he was in high school and we recruited him to Texas A&M.”
Then, the NCAA gave every player an extra year of eligibility because of COVID, and Childress didn’t have a spot for him anymore.
So Childress called Bolt, his former assistant who had moved on to Nebraska, and wondered if he had a home for Anderson.
And that’s how Anderson wound up playing for Nebraska.
Then, this story went full circle.
After Anderson went to Nebraska, Childress followed him, becoming Bolt’s assistant.
“Ironically enough, I had the opportunity to get a front-row seat to watch him for the last two seasons,” Childress said. “Just funny, things work out and he's just, he's a gifted hitter."
Now, he’s not perfect.
Anderson believes he can hit every pitch thrown. Which is a problem. Because he can’t do damage with every pitch. And recognizing that is what he needs to improve.
“He can hit every pitch and that's also his greatest curse,” Childress said. “Because he can hit every pitch. He just can't hit every pitch well, and I think that's the one thing that's gonna continue to be part of his development. Being able to know what his strengths are and attack those and lay off of his weaknesses.”
As luck would have it, that’s exactly how the Tigers talk. That’s Harris’ mantra. That’s the Tigers' focus in a nutshell.
So, to advance in the Tigers system, Anderson has to learn to become more selective. He has to embrace The Tigers Way.
But that seems highly possible. Because he is so talented.
Where will he play?
The Tigers took Anderson with the 45th overall pick.
“When it happened, I got the call and my heart dropped," Anderson said. "The child in me came out. It was awesome. A dream came true.”
The slot value of that pick is $1.91 million.
Anderson was projected to be taken later in the draft, with MLB Pipeline ranking him at No. 91; that pick has a slot value of $747,600, so it is possible that he cut a deal with the Tigers.
When asked, he was coy without giving specifics: “I was just looking for a team to give me a shot really,” he said. “Money really wasn't a question for me, in all honesty. … I am a baseball player through and through and going to play the game. If it makes me money, it makes me money. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm just here to play baseball and have fun.”
So, it’s clear he loves to play.
The big question is: Where will he play?
Anderson played third his first two seasons at Nebraska but had some throwing errors. He moved to second as a junior so he could concentrate on his hitting. “He made one error all season long and turns the double play as good as anybody,” Childress said. "He can play second and third, play first base, play corner outfield positions. You know, he's gonna ascend rapidly because of his bat tool.”
So maybe he sticks at second base.
Or maybe the Tigers move him to first.
Or even left field.
“If you put him in left field, he's not going to have the noodle arm out there by any stretch,” Bolt said.
Don't judge this book by its cover
When Anderson appeared on a Zoom call with reporters on Monday night, there was a surprise: He had a new look.
A short, clean-cut hairstyle.
“I've been looking at pictures, and you had the big shaggy hair,” I said. “Now you're all clean-cut. What happened?
“Well, I felt like I had to look somewhat good for a big day,” he said. “My mom wouldn't be too happy with me if I got too many pictures looking like that."
He broke into a smile, wearing a Tigers cap.
Suddenly, he looked like the clean-cut All-American. I mean, he absolutely looked the part of being a baseball prospect. But he still had that fun, easy-going vibe.
The lesson is clear: Don't judge a book by it's cover ... or a player by his hair.
And Bolt was right: I already love him.
My gut says the Tigers just got a special bat and a fun personality.
Where will he play? No idea. But if he hits like he has his entire life, they are gonna find him a spot.
Contact Jeff Seidel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers show they're not judging their picks by their looks