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Aaron Schoonmaker

Big league numbers don't equal big league call for Bulls' Anderson

Posted September 3, 2013
Updated September 4, 2013

Leslie Anderson (24). The Durham Bulls hosted the Charlotte Knights for the Bulls final home game Tuesday night August 27, 2013. (Photo by Jack Tarr)

— In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis was a minor-league lifer who “was in the Show for 21 days once.” He went on to break the “dubious” minor league home run record touring the Carolina League, but aged out before he caught the big break. For the past four seasons, the real-life Durham Bulls have seen an aging star produce at a major league level, but at 31 years old, has yet to even crack a 40-man MLB roster.

“You have to be at the right place at the right time,” said Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo. “At this level you have to be more than good, you have to be lucky too.”

Before the start of the 2012 season, Montoyo approached Leslie Anderson and said, ‘if you hit .300 this year, you will get noticed.’ Anderson hit .309.

Before the start of the 2013 season, Montoyo told reporters at media day that he wants nothing more than to have a conversation with Anderson – in Spanish – telling him he’s going to the majors. That conversation never happened.

It boils down to talent, timing and good fortune.

Anderson has the talent part down – and always has. As an 18-year-old rookie in the Cuban league in 2000, Anderson hit .291 and set the rookie record with 28 doubles. He followed that up by hitting .309 in year No. 2. The next two seasons, he saw his average climb to .319 and .337.

As a member of the Cuban National Team, Anderson was an All-Tournament outfielder in the University Games in 2002 and earned a spot on the Cuban World Baseball Classic rosters in 2006 and 2009.

Following a 2008-09 campaign in which Anderson hit .381 and won a Gold Glove in the Cuban league, the Camaguey, Cuba native was dropped from the national team and defected. He signed a four-year, $1.725 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and debuted in Charlotte in 2010.

Hitting nine home runs and batting .344 in 69 games between Charlotte and Montgomery, Anderson was promoted to Durham in his first professional season. Unfortunately for him, that is where he has stayed.

“Talking with Charlie over the years, he says to keep playing and do as well as I can here and the chances will come,” Anderson said. “But I try not to worry about it. As long as I’m here, I’m focused on winning a championship with these guys.”

Anderson’s teammates will embark on a championship run starting Wednesday when their opening-round best-of-five playoff series with Indianapolis starts at DBAP. A big part of why they have got to this point is Anderson’s leadership and production.

The 6-foot-1 lefty finished the regular season 11th in the International League with a .292 batting average, was sixth with 74 RBI and tied for 24th with 14 home runs. That is after a 2012 season in which Anderson was third in the IL with a .309 average, committed just one error and led the team in home runs, RBI, total bases, runs scored hits and doubles. He was voted the team MVP each of the last two seasons.

Anderson was invited to big league camp in the spring of 2013, but was once again relegated to Durham when the final rosters were set.

“He’s a little more frustrated because he’s done it again and he hasn’t got the chance,” Montoyo said. “It’s tough when you go back to the same place and you keep doing well, you start thinking ‘what else can I do?’”

One of Anderson’s biggest issues has been timing – it’s less of what he’s doing and more of what others at the big league level are doing. Essentially, Tampa Bay has long rostered similar players with previous big-league experience.

Luke Scott has been the Rays’ left-handed designated hitter for the last two seasons. They also dress left-handed outfielders Sam Fuld Kelly Johnson, Matt Joyce and the newly acquired David DeJesus. If first base was the next option, veteran James Loney stands in his way. Before them were the likes of Carlos Pena, Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman and Carl Crawford.

Anderson, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Tampa in the offseason and in Durham in the summer, said that he is grateful to his family back in Cuba for letting him pursue a professional baseball career. While in Durham, Anderson said he is grateful to have had four years to build a strong relationship with Montoyo, a native of Puerto Rico.

For the free-agent to be, that relationship could turn into a glowing letter of recommendation.

“Whoever calls me about him, I will tell them he can do well in the big leagues if he gets a chance,” Montoyo said.

With the average age of a major league player hovering around 28 years old, time is running out for Anderson, regardless of his gaudy Triple-A numbers. Question is, after 455 minor league games, will he get is 21 greatest days like Crash did?

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  • BattlingBishop 5 Sep 4, 6:20 a.m.

    ^Agreed....he's earned a shot at the Bigs based on his play. Bet his age has a lot to do with it. He's a .295 career hitter in the Minors, clearly deserves to be on the 40 man.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Sep 3, 10:28 p.m.

    My favorite Bulls player. As much as I like watching him play in Durham, he deserves his chance with the Rays.

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