Dean Anna is the most underrated player in all of professional baseball.
In my last installment of “Trapped in the Minors,” I talked about Brock Bond, a ridiculously underrated on-base machine in the Giants’ system. And it’s true—Bond has yet to get a shot in the big leagues, despite being good enough to start for numerous major league teams. But Dean Anna makes Brock Bond look famous.
Before we get into just how crazy underrated this guy is, I should probably establish who, exactly, we are talking about. Eight things to know about Dean Anna:
1. He is a 26-year-old shortstop/second baseman in the Padres’ system.
2. The Padres took him in the 26th round of the 2008 draft, out of Ball State.
3. His career line in the minor leagues is .276/.380/.420.
4. He didn’t even get a shot at playing every day (in the minors) until he was 24.
5. He made the Texas League All-Star team last season.
6. Despite high on-base percentages at every level, he only reached Triple-A this year.
8. At this writing, he’s hitting .332/.400/.527 at Triple-A Tucson.
9. Anna was not included in John Sickels’ 2013 Prospect Book.
Let me reiterate that last point, because it’s kind of amazing. Sickels is arguably the best prospect analyst in the business. His 2013 book profiles 1,210 players, including 40 who were born in 1986 (Anna’s birth year) or earlier. So it’s not like Anna missed some sort of age cutoff—he’s just so underrated that he didn’t make it into the book.
And please don’t think I mean to pick on Sickels. I searched the Baseball America website for “Dean Anna” and got two hits—both from before the 2008 draft. Bottom line: nobody knows who this guy is—not even John Sickels or Baseball America.
The reasons why Anna has gone completely unnoticed aren’t surprising. His batting average has been between .271 and .280 every year since 2009— totally unexciting. His career high in home runs is 10. He’s not fast, doesn’t steal bases. He’s not a glamorous fielder. He’s not a big guy, and there is no one thing about his game that really stands out. Even his name—Dean William Anna—is modest and unassuming. Basically, nobody ever expected anything of Dean Anna, so nobody has paid attention even though he’s turned into a very solid player.
Anna is no defensive savant, but he gets the job done, and his combination of versatility and competence are both highly valuable and easy to underrate. He splits most of his time between shortstop and second base, but he’s also put in time at third base, the outfield corners, and first base. He’s even tried on catcher’s gear, although he has yet to get into a game behind the plate. Anna is the sort of player who will do anything you ask him to do—and he’ll do it well enough that you’ll soon forget he’s even there. He’s a picture-perfect super-utility man.
In that way, Anna is a lot like Mark DeRosa, another ultra-versatile player who put up high on-base percentages but didn’t get a real major league opportunity until his mid-20s. Like DeRosa, Anna could end up with a long career in the big leagues, assuming someone gives him a chance.
An update on Scott Van Slyke
In the first installment of “Trapped in the Minors,” I profiled Scott Van Slyke, the minor league slugger who was trapped in the Dodgers’ system. He seemed to be in the worst possible organization—the Dodgers began the season with a jam-packed outfield and Adrian Gonzalez at first base, and prospects like Yasiel Puig knocking on the door. Van Slyke needed the stars to align if he was going to get a chance in Los Angeles.
And align they did. In 34 games to start the Triple-A season, Van Slyke hit .397/.503/.733. Meanwhile, the Dodgers and their $240 million payroll floundered. On May 10, Van Slyke got the call. With the big league club, he’s hitting .296/.367/.778 with seven extra-base hits in 30 plate appearances. It’s the tiniest of samples, but it counteracts Van Slyke’s dismal 57-plate appearance debut last season, and it’s made him a key part of the Dodgers roster.