Ian Anderson: Braves 2019 Minor League Player Of The Year
Crowned as the Braves' No. 1 pitching prospect entering the season, Ian Anderson has met—and exceeded—those lofty expectations, putting him on track to contribute for a contending team in 2020.
Anderson, who turned 21 in May, was the top performer in a deep prospect field this season. Before his promotion to Triple-A, he posted a 2.68 ERA with 147 strikeouts against 47 walks in 111 innings at Double-A Mississppi in 21 starts. In that time, Anderson limited opponents to a .202 average, the second-lowest mark in the Southern League, while leading the league in strikeouts through Aug. 4. He made the third-most starts in the league, logged the eighth-most innings and the sixth-best WHIP (1.16).
In an organization stocked with pitching, Anderson has separated himself.
“It really keeps you on your toes and makes sure you can’t get complacent around here,” said Anderson, who was a Southern League all-star and started for the National League in the Futures Game. “You could get passed by really quick. I think you’ve seen that a lot just with the development of all the guys we’ve had come up. None of them have really hit a standstill. That’s because they know there’s always someone on your tail.”
The consensus pegs Anderson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2016, as a potential ace. He’s continuing to add mass, trying to fill out his listed, 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame. His arsenal features a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and a developing change-up. The Braves will consider promoting him in September, either to aid an inconsistent bullpen or make spot starts for a team trying to cover innings before October. Either way, he’ll be competing for a rotation spot next spring.
“If we think someone gives us the best chance to win, we’ll do it,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “And we did it last year. . . . With where we’re at, being a competitive club trying to get to the playoffs, we’re going to go with the best guy, no matter who it is. No matter what the experience is. Whoever gives us the best chance to win.”
— Cristian Pache, the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, was another strong candidate for prospect of the year. The outfielder hit .278/.340/.474 with 28 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers and 53 RBIs for Double-A Mississippi before earning a promotion to Triple-A.
Still just 20 years young, Pache’s defense is already deemed major-league ready. His offense has made strides in the last three seasons, including another encouraging leap forward this year. Pache was long been considered the best defender in the system, if not the entire minor leagues.
Pache could debut as soon as Opening Day 2020. The Braves plan for him to man center field long-term, with Ronald Acuña Jr. in the corner outfield.
— As for who could man the third outfield spot, the switch-hitting Drew Waters soared in 2019. Also 20, Waters hit .319/.366/.481 with 35 doubles, nine triples, five homers and 41 RBIs in his first full season at Double-A. Alongside Anderson, Pache and Tucker Davidson, he was promoted to Triple-A in early August.
While Waters doesn’t boast the natural defensive ability of Pache or Acuna, his bat is extremely advanced for his age. Scouts love his makeup and speed, an at-times underrated part of his game, and the team believes he’ll harness more power as he grows. His versatility allows him to play all three outfield spots.
Anderson, Pache and Waters comprise the Braves’ new elite prospect trifecta. The team wouldn’t discuss those players at the deadline unless the return was a controllable, top-level talent. And each of the three, after taking steps forward this season, will debut within the next year.