FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas junior Brian Anderson hasn’t been perfect at his new position through the first two weeks of the season.
The second baseman has a team-high four errors in six games. It’s a similar start to his 2013 struggles, when Anderson committed a team-high 20 errors. But there’s one key difference: the defensive mistakes haven’t affected his confidence.
“I think I can handle it,” Anderson said Wednesday. “The coaches are behind me. Coach (Dave) Van Horn and (assistant) coach (Tony) Vitello, they would have definitely said something to me if they had questions about it. …
“It’s not really something I’m worried about. It’s just something I need to continue to work at and get better at. But I think I’m on the right track.”
Anderson will continue his adjustment to the right side of Arkansas’ infield when the Razorbacks (6-0) open a three-game series against South Alabama (3-4) in Baum Stadium at 3:05 today. The preseason All-American is off to another great start at the plate with a team-high .458 batting average, but is still working to become a consistent defender at a position he began playing last fall.
The move was suggested by Van Horn, who watched Anderson’s confidence suffer when he struggled from the left side of the infield last season. Van Horn said it’s clear Anderson has made some mistakes once again this season, but nothing that would make him believe the move to second base won’t work.
“He’s made some great plays,” Van Horn said. “He had one play where he didn’t throw the ball and hit the pitcher that was on the move, on a play that honestly the first baseman should have taken two steps and got back to first base. That was late in the game the other day. And he dropped one double play ball.
“Other than that, I think he’s played well. He’s made some tough plays, too.”
It has taken some time to adjust. Anderson’s only experience as a second baseman came as a young child in tee ball. The Oklahoma native has spent the bulk of his baseball career as a third baseman or shortstop, so there are subtle differences.
Covering first base on a bunt is the biggest change. Whipping a throw from second base back to first to turn a double play is another.
“But it’s not that much different than any other infield position,” Anderson said. “There’s definitely no excuses for making a routine error …. It’s a little different seeing the ball, seeing the spin off the bat of a lefty. But it’s really similar to shortstop. You have a little bit more time to read the ball and get it to first base.”
Arkansas is hoping Anderson continues to improve defensively, which will only help distance himself from last year’s infield issues.
There’s no doubt he was Arkansas’ best offensive player last season, but also one of the team’s biggest defensive liabilities. He started 35 games at third base and shortstop, but had trouble making accurate throws across the diamond.
Anderson’s confidence waned as the errors piled up, too. He was eventually moved back to the outfield, where he played throughout most of his freshman season.
“I think I put a lot of pressure on myself trying to be too perfect and I wasn’t focusing on my mechanics,” Anderson said. “I think I lost a lot a little bit of confidence. That’s definitely a big key for me is get that confidence back and just know I can put the ball wherever I want it. It’s taking care of myself.”
One key change came after pitching coach Dave Jorn noticed Anderson was gripping the ball with three fingers, which made him throw a change-up – of sorts – across the infield. So Anderson said he has changed his grip and improved his footwork.
“I could play him at third, but then he’s on the left side of the infield,” Van Horn said. “I was trying to take it out of his hands by getting him on the right side because we have got some guys that can play third. … He has got a tremendous arm and a little better feel at second. He is going to throw a ball away here and there — everybody does. But you can tell he’s not thinking about it or worrying about it.”
Van Horn knows he could always play Anderson in the outfield again, but believes there are enough hitters there with starters Andrew Benintendi, Tyler Spoon and Joe Serrano. The Razorbacks don’t have enough proven offense at the infield positions, so moving the team’s best bat to second base was the best move.
Arkansas catcher Jake Wise believes Anderson looks at home in the infield.
“I think infield is comfortable for him and that’s kind of the position he’s played his whole life,” Wise said. “So I don’t think it was a big change for him. He feels more comfortable in the infield than he does in the outfield.”
Anderson said it doesn’t matter whether he is penciled into the lineup as Arkansas’ second base, shortstop, third base or the outfield this season. His only goal is to help the Razorbacks exceed expectations this season.
There’s no doubt Arkansas’ best hitter will play a big role in their success with his performance at the plate. Anderson knows his defense is important, too.
“That’s something you should take pride in as a baseball player, is your defense,” Anderson said. “Especially if you’re in the middle of the infield or really, just anywhere in the middle of the field: center field, shortstop, second base. It’s what you need to take pride in, and I do. I’ve got a lot of room to get better.”