Motivated Anderson adjusting to new life
Cuban defector working his way up Rays' Minor League chain
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Leslie Anderson hasn't fully acclimated to life in America yet, and he knows it will take a long time to do so -- perhaps longer than it will take him to work his way up through the Rays' Minor League system. But he has two constants that keep him motivated: the game he loves and the people who love him.
Anderson, a non-drafted free agent who defected in September and signed a four-year deal worth $3.75 million with the Rays on March 11, left Cuba hoping that one day, he would get a chance to play baseball in the big leagues and provide a comfortable life for his family. The 28-year-old Anderson is now another step closer to achieving his lifelong goal.
"My wife and daughter are a big support system for me. They come and see games here, and they think I have the opportunity to get to the big leagues," Anderson said through an interpreter, teammate Isaias Velasquez. "That's why I play hard every single day -- for my dream and for family. When you come from another country, you have a dream and you want your family to have a good future."
Anderson was promoted from high Class A Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery last weekend, putting him a little closer to the Majors, where the Rays see Anderson becoming a quality addition given his left-handed bat and defensive versatility.
"I just want the opportunity to demonstrate that I can play in the big leagues, that I have the quality to play in the big leagues," Anderson said. "If they give me the opportunity, I'm going to play."
Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay's executive vice president of baseball operations, said the most important aspect of Anderson's development in the Minor Leagues will not happen in the batter's box or at any of the positions Anderson is capable of playing, but rather off the field, "in terms of aggressively trying to help he and his wife learn the English language, acclimate to life in the United States and put him in a good position and give him a good foundation to be able to focus just on baseball.
"When you first come over here, it's very difficult to be able to do that with all the other adjustments you're making. But things have gone very well on both fronts, and at some point we'll move him up a level and allow him to focus more on the baseball side of things."
Mitch Lukevics, the Rays' director of Minor League operations, said Anderson was at a disadvantage even compared to the organization's other young Latin players, as they can go through cultural simulation programs in their native countries and when they first arrive in America. Anderson, unfortunately, did not have that luxury, as he defected from Cuba and jumped right into baseball.
"He's 28 years old. He's not 18, he's 28. He's played around the world. He's a veteran guy. This guy, baseball-wise, should fit right in. It's just the cultural part that could be the challenge right now," Lukevics said. "It's no different, to me, than developing your baseball skills. You have to develop a language. You have to learn about the culture, how to fit in. And that takes time."
Regarded as a talented hitter when the Rays signed him, Anderson previously played for Camaguey in the Cuban National Series for nine seasons, compiling a career .320 batting average and hitting .381 with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in the 2008-09 season.
In 21 games for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Anderson batted .262 with a .303 on-base percentage and a .405 slugging percentage. He hit three doubles and three home runs while driving in 11 runs and racked up 16 hits in his last 49 at-bats (.324). He committed no defensive errors, splitting time between the outfield and first base.
The Cuban native's English has not progressed quite as quickly as he is working his way up through the Minors, but his high Class A teammates did their part to help him learn the language -- something Anderson is putting a lot of effort into, as he thinks it will make his adjustment to American baseball significantly easier. Velasquez said he and the other two Stone Crabs born in Latin American countries have been teaching Anderson at least one new English word a day.
"I feel like I'm family. I feel comfortable with all the guys because they help me a lot," Anderson said. "The most difficult thing is to learn English, but I'm learning -- every single day, a new word. I feel very excited to be learning."
Whenever Anderson finally reaches the Major Leagues, he will provide his team with a versatile defensive presence, a high-potential bat and a work ethic inspired by his determination to make his Major League dream come true.
"The most important thing for me is to play baseball," Anderson said. "It doesn't matter what position they put me at. I can play whatever position they want. If they give me the opportunity to play, I'm going to be happy and do the best I can to help my team win."
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.