Fueled by his 'superpower,' Anderson's bat impressed Tigers

July 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

If you want to look at the face of the Tigers’ hitting philosophy, Max Anderson has it. Just don’t make fun of the glasses, especially when he sees pitches just fine.

“It’s honestly kind of funny,” Anderson explained. “So one day I was trying to put my contacts in before a game my senior year [in high school], and I couldn’t get them in, just struggled at it. I just went and played with my glasses, and I hit two home runs and I’ve never looked back. Wore them ever since.”

Superstition? Maybe. Glare? Nope.

“Definitely at night, it helps me a lot,” Anderson said. “But yeah, they have superpowers.”

The way Anderson hit this year at Nebraska, he has no reason to change. It'd be absurd to. After two seasons with an OPS in the mid-to-upper .800s and reaching double-digit home runs as a sophomore (12), Anderson burst onto the national scene as a junior. He batted .414 and posted a 1.232 OPS with 20 doubles, 21 homers and 70 RBIs in 57 games. The 21-year-old second baseman was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, a second-team All-American and a semifinalist for college baseball’s prestigious Golden Spikes Award. He was the first Husker to bat .400 in 22 years.

Anderson did all that damage while striking out just 29 times in 269 plate appearances. He drew 20 walks.

So what changed for him from last year, when he hit .295 with 10 homers, 44 RBIs and an .853 OPS? He learned to dominate the strike zone.

“I just think it was a commitment really to doing what I was good at, and that was just hitting the ball the other way and swinging at good pitches,” Anderson said. “I think sometimes, maybe, I got myself out a little bit in early counts swinging at bad pitches. I think this year I made a commitment to learning the zone and making sure I know what I’m good at, and that was driving the ball the other way, and we could lift it over there pretty good as well.”

For all that production, he had relatively few walks. It wasn’t due to a lack of mindset.

“I wanted to walk more coming into this year,” he said, “and it was kind of a commitment to seeing more pitches, or just seeing better pitches. And I didn’t walk as much, but thinking the same thing, trying to walk more was also me locking in on seeing a better pitch. So I think that was what really was the big jump in me, just being able to learn the zone and know where I hit the ball and when I hit it. When I hit it in my spot, it’s gonna work.”

The Tigers are banking on that to work, which is why they drafted him early in the second round Sunday night.

“From the time guys started going to see him, all we kept hearing was he can hit,” Tigers amateur scouting director Mark Conner said. “You go look at his stats and performance this year, that backs it up. He has a very high intense swing that’s looking to do damage. Barrel stays in the zone extremely long. He’s able to drive the ball to all fields and had a tremendous performance this year. He’s a guy that our staff truly feels like is on the come [up] and has a lot of better days ahead of him.”

Not bad for a hitter that wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, didn’t play much travel ball and barely had to wander from his home in Omaha for college ball. 

“Pro ball wasn’t really an option for me out of high school,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t really highly recruited. I didn’t really play anything outside of Legion baseball. I didn’t travel, I didn’t really go out, just kind of played with my buddies. 

“For college, it was just a dream come true to come to Nebraska, a child just living out his dream, playing in front of his family and friends. I mean, they could come to most every game, so it was perfect.” 

Now, the dream lives on. And while Anderson will have to venture out some more, he’ll still get to stay in Big Ten territory. 

“When it happened, my heart dropped, like the child in me came out," he said. "It was awesome. A dream came true.”