At $2.5 million under his reported slot value, New York native Ian Anderson signed with the Braves for $4 million in the 2016 MLB Draft. After being taken third overall, the savings the team earned with Anderson allowed them enough flexibility to obtain even more elite talent in the draft, as they later selected Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller immediately after, as well as guys like Bryse Wilson, Jeremy Walker and Tucker Davidson later on (yes, that was an unbelievable draft). But Anderson was the real superstar.
Former Braves’ scouting director, Brian Bridges, raved about Anderson’s makeup, stating that the “maturity of this young man at such a young age is what really sealed the deal.” And that advanced level of maturity has benefited Anderson (along with his pure talent of course), as he has been dominant on the mound since Day 1. Going into the 2020 season, there’s arguably no doubt that Anderson is the organization’s top pitching prospect, though that title has been given to quite a few talented former Braves’ pitchers over the years. So how does Anderson compare? Let’s go several years back and see just how unprecedented his performance has been so far, as well as what path he may need to take keep this up:
NOTE: I have compiled each former Braves’ prospect using MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings, dating back to 2012 (the first year of their top-100 series). Each pitcher listed below was Pipeline’s top Braves’ prospect pitcher for that season. I’ve also included each pitcher’s overall top-100 ranking during that particular season.
2012 – 2013
Julio Teheran, RHP (No. 4 / No. 31)
Of course, the comparisons must begin with Teheran, who was just a 17-year-old kid when the Braves signed him out of Columbia back in 2007. In those early days, the teenage Teheran was known as one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and the Braves certainly weren’t afraid to challenge him. Much like Anderson, Teheran reached Triple-A in Year 4 of his development, starting the 2011 season in Gwinnett, though he went on to make his MLB debut as a 20-year-old in May of that year.
Looking at Teheran’s first four seasons in the minors, it puts in perspective just how great Anderson has been during his four-year run thus far. Anderson has certainly been more dominant on the mound, featuring more strikeouts than Teheran and faring much better in terms of run prevention. Consider both pitchers’ numbers after four seasons completed in the minors:
- Teheran: 68 starts | 382.5 IP | 3.84 ERA | 8.8 K/9 | 2.47 BB/9
- Anderson: 80 starts |377.2 IP | 2.91 ERA | 10.7 K/9 | 4.0 BB/9
It’s quite apparent Anderson has been a better power pitcher as a prospect, though you can also see that even as a teenager, Teheran was an innings eater, averaging well over five innings per start during that stint, as opposed to Anderson’s less than five innings per outing. Also, Teheran had fewer issues with walks as a prospect, which was a strength he mostly held on to as a Brave, finishing his 9-year big league career in Atlanta with a solid walk-rate of 3.0 BB/9. Overall, however, Anderson’s repertoire and ability to generate strikeouts perhaps points to a prospect with more upside than what Teheran had back in the day.
Lucas Sims, RHP (No. 60)
Remember this guy? Sims was the Braves’ 21st overall pick in 2012, out of Brookwood High in Georgia. He was known for his power arm, routinely touching 97 mph with his fastball even in prep ball. However, Sims often struggled with command, and at the time of his drafting, it appeared scouts were aware of such issues. As so, things haven’t quite materialized for Sims, as he’s now with the Reds after spending 6 ½ years in the Braves organization. In his three-year big league career, the now-25-year-old has produced just 116.1 innings in the majors, while sporting a 5.49 ERA.
However, Sims first several years in the Braves system were rather promising, as the 6-foot-2 righty reached Double-A in his fourth year in the organization, after being pegged as the team’s top pitching prospect in 2014. Sims debuted in the majors in 2017 as a 23-year-old, pitching in 14 total games (10 starts / 4 relief appearances), but the results were middling as Sims struck out just 6.9 batters per nine and finished with a poor 5.62 ERA. He was then traded to Cincy in 2018, as part of the Braves’ package in the Adam Duvall deal. Compared to Anderson… Sims was obviously nowhere close to as talented.
Mike Foltynewicz, RHP (No. 78)
It wasn’t until he came over to the Braves in 2015 — as part of the trade that sent Evan Gattis to Houston — that Foltynewicz began to develop some swing-and-miss with his pitch mix. Although, as a former 19th overall pick by the Astros when he was 18-years-old (2010 Draft), Foltynewicz was no slouch. Coming out of Minooka, Illinois — a small town about an hour southwest of Chicago — Foltynewicz was considered the best prep arm in the region leading up to the 2010 MLB Draft, though at that point he was throwing in the low-90s.
Foltynewicz fared better than Sims, but during Folty’s prospect days he wasn’t nearly as dominant as Anderson thus far, nor Teheran, for that matter. Foltynewicz’s best season as a prospect came in 2013, in the Astros’ system, when he posted an impressive 3.06 ERA in High-A and Double-A combined; however, he struggled with walks and surrendered 4.6 BB/9.
Foltynewicz has had his share of ups and downs as a regular in the Braves’ rotation over the last four-ish seasons, but has turned out rather well when assessing his entire career… even more so if he can get back to his 2018 days (3.8 WAR / 200+ strikeouts). So far it appears Anderson could have even more projected upside than Folty, and when taking into consideration how much more successful the former has been as a prospect, I’d surmise that Anderson has a high chance of being an even better pitcher altogether when it’s all said and done.
Sean Newcomb, LHP (No. 21)
A huge senior season at the University of Hartford gave Newcomb a big surge on draft day in 2014, and the LA Angels pounced on the 6-foot-5 lefty, giving him a $2.518 million signing bonus as their first-round selection. Newcomb impressed in his first full pro season in 2015, pitching at three different levels and finishing with a 2.38 ERA and 11+ K/9 in 136 innings (he also surrendered five or more hits in just one of 27 outings). That breakout year resulted in the still highly debated trade, sending Newcomb and Erick Aybar to the Braves in exchange for shortstop Andrelton Simmons in November of 2015. By the time the 2016 season started, the 23-year-old Newcomb was touted as the Braves’ top arm in the minors, already featuring mid-90s velocity with his fastball and two plus breaking pitches.
We’ve seen just how great Newcomb can be, even as recent as the last two years when he almost no-hit the Dodgers in 2018 and then, of course, his success pitching out of the Braves’ bullpen; but when comparing the two prospects, Anderson has shown more consistency, especially when it comes to walks. In Newcomb’s first two full seasons in the Braves’ system, pitching in Double-A and Triple-A, the lefty carried a combined 3.41 ERA with an impressive 10.6 K/9, though he also walked 104 batters in those 197.2 innings, good for 4.74 BB/9. Those early issues with walks have carried over to Newcomb’s time in the big leagues (4.5 BB/9 so far in his three-year major league career), ultimately causing him to be moved to the ‘pen in 2019. The jury still isn’t out on Newcomb, as he’ll have a shot to compete for the Braves’ fifth rotation spot this Spring, but at this point, I like where Anderson’s headed much better.
Kolby Allard, LHP (No. 53)
Allard is yet another high school arm the Braves went all-in on in the MLB Draft, selecting the lefty 14th overall in 2015 for $3.042 million. Allard was initially projected to be a top-10 pick and had reservations to possibly sign with UCLA, but concerns over a stress fracture in his back caused him to slip down to the Braves. Despite his small size (6-foot, 170 pounds), the Braves liked Allard’s exceptional command, and although his velocity took a huge hit during his pro days, the team was impressed with his consistent 92-94 mph fastball velocity.
By the 2017 season — the year in which Allard was pegged as the Braves’ top pitching prospect — the California lefty had already dominated rookie ball and Single-A the season before, posting a 2.98 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 87.2 innings across the two levels as an 18-year-old. Although Allard’s K rate dropped a bit, his numbers the next two seasons were just as dominant as Anderson’s, as the former finished with a 3.18 ERA and 2.72 mark in 2017 and 2018, respectively, between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. In fact, other than K rate, Allard’s four-year numbers look better than Anderson’s:
- Anderson: 80 starts |377.2 IP | 2.91 ERA | 10.7 K/9 | 4.0 BB/9
- Allard: 65 starts | 221 IP | 2.22 ERA | 10.65 K/9 | 2.0 BB/9
Unfortunately, Allard’s fastball velocity took a dive once he made it to the majors in 2018, resulting in a rough 8-inning stint (1 start / 2 relief appearances) that season, ending with him surrendering 11 total runs (3 HR). He was traded to the Rangers at the deadline last season for reliever Chris Martin, as the Braves could no longer afford to give him consistent looks in the big leagues. Allard was no doubt a big prospect during his time with the Braves, but it’s obvious his fastball was never going to allow him to reach certain heights, barring some kind of Greg Maddux phenomenon. Anderson might not have the same command, but his ‘stuff’ is way more advanced.
Kyle Wright, RHP (No. 30)
Wright is perhaps the most comparable Braves’ pitching prospect to Anderson at this point in terms of pitch-mix and just pure talent on the mound, even after a bit of a step back in 2019 for the Vanderbilt product. The Braves took the 6-foot-4, Alabama native fifth overall in 2017, and because of his collegiate experience, Wright shot all the way to the majors just two years later, making his debut with the Braves in September of 2018 as the organization’s top arm on the farm. Wright’s elite fastball and curveball enabled him to hold his own and post a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances that season, but mechanical issues and even some pitch tipping caused him to hit a wall in 2019. At the big league level, Wright made four starts and one relief appearances for the Braves last season, running a horrendous 8.69 ERA with 13 walks in 19.2 innings.
It’s a bit difficult to accurately compare Wright and Anderson’s minor league numbers, considering the two didn’t log a very comparable amount of work there, but it’s still apparent who has performed better of the two.
- Anderson: 80 starts |377.2 IP | 2.91 ERA | 10.7 K/9 | 4.0 BB/9
- Wright: 57 starts | 3 app. | 267.1 IP | 3.70 ERA | 9.0 K/9 | 3.1 BB/9
Of course, a bounce-back season by Wright in 2020 could drastically alter our perception regarding his potential upside, and he’ll also be in the running for the No. 5 spot in the big league rotation this Spring, but there’s a reason that Anderson is ranked ahead of him in all of the latest prospect rankings. As of right now… the hype has turned to Anderson.
Mike Soroka, RHP (No. 24)
If you’re currently a pitcher in the Braves’ minor league system, Soroka is the guy you should be trying to emulate. The former first-round pick (2015) has the entire package: the hype going into the MLB Draft, the impressive performance as a developing star in the minors, and after the 2019 season… the results to back up all of that initial excitement. For Anderson, these are all attributes he’s attempting to attain as an elite prospect, and fortunately for him, he’s currently on the right path. Here are Anderson’s numbers so far, compared with Soroka’s in the minors as a prospect:
Anderson: 80 starts |377.2 IP | 2.91 ERA | 10.7 K/9 | 4.0 BB/9
Soroka: 67 starts | 2 app., | 370.2 IP | 2.84 ERA | 8.0 K/9 | 1.9 BB/9
As we saw when looking at Teheran above, Anderson lacks in the innings-per-start department, but it’s nice to see that he’s right there with one of the Braves’ recent success stories. Anderson has more swing-and-miss with his pitches (so far), but Soroka was head and shoulders above him in terms of limiting walks. Perhaps Anderson should approach his fastball velocity like Soroka has over the years, throttling down during outings but being able to crank up the heat when going up in the zone. Soroka stays more in the low to mid-90s for most of his starts, but he’s plenty capable of running his fastball up to 96-97 mph, especially when trying to induce a swing up and out of the zone. For the most part, the two pitchers have very similar repertoires, featuring above-average secondaries and several different options when it comes to racking up punch outs. Hopefully, the two players’ similarities will remain once Anderson’s in the majors. If so, the Braves will wield a dangerous weapon at the top of their starting rotation.