There’s a few ways that scouts go about projecting players. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at a player’s age; over a five-year period, 16-year-olds are likely to improve more than 22-year-olds.
Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at body types; a wiry, wide-shouldered prospect is more likely to gain strength than a shorter, stockier prospect.
But teams also use playing experience as a way of projecting talent. Players from cold-weather climates, who simply haven’t played as much baseball, can often be projected to grow significantly more than their warm-weather counterparts, who tend to play baseball year-round.
Meet Ian Anderson.
He fits into many of the standard “projection” categories that teams have used for years. Anderson is a 6-foot-3, rail-thin righthander, with a clean delivery that he repeats well. Anderson’s fastball sits comfortably in the low 90s, and has touched as high as 94. He complements it with a changeup that could become a plus pitch, and an improving breaking ball that shows late dive as it crosses through the strike zone. He’s also from upstate New York, making him one of the most projectable pitchers in the 2016 draft class. Anderson’s high upside, and his high draft stock, represent a turning point in baseball in the Northeast.
A lot of the language used to describe Anderson was applied to another righthander from New York’s capital region back in 2011. When Rockies prospect Jeff Hoffman graduated from Shaker High in Latham, N.Y., he was lanky and thin—perhaps even thinner than Anderson—and evaluators could project his body to add significant muscle.
“I had to get stronger. I knew if I didn’t there would be complications. I was 6-5 and 165 pounds and I threw low 90s and that just doesn’t work,” Hoffman said. “Getting stronger was the most important thing I had to do.”
While the rest of Hoffman’s story remains unwritten, the rising action took place when he went to East Carolina. There, Hoffman teamed up with then-head coach Billy Godwin and pitching coach Dan Roszel. He quickly added some meat to his bones, and exploded into a first-round pick in 2014.
This was a part of East Carolina’s recruiting strategy, trying to dig into the nooks and crannies of the Northeast for prospects that could have an immediate impact, but wouldn’t be plucked away by power conference schools or major league teams.
Hoffman generated some pro interest when he was in high school, but that interest peaked following his senior year, when he played in the Connie Mack World Series for the South Troy Dodgers. Prior to that, Hoffman’s exposure was limited; he hadn’t played in many of the major showcases that pro scouts attend.
The pro scouting process for Anderson, on the other hand, started following his sophomore year. A college coach saw him pitch in a sectional playoff game, and word quickly spread among scouts and recruiting coordinators. His first national exposure came at the 2014 Metropolitan Baseball Classic, where he remembers giving up a double
to another high-end prospect, Florida prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers. A few months later, Anderson committed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt.
Anderson would go on to play for Team USA following his junior year, and he also pitched at Perfect Game National and the East Coast Pro event, which aims to simulate the lifestyle of professional baseball over four days in late July. Unlike Hoffman, Anderson has had plenty of exposure to high-level competition and the amateur scouting community.
“It gave me a ton of confidence,” Anderson said of the showcase circuit. “Northeast guys want to know they can play with anyone. Northeast guys have shown again and again that they can do it.”
The baseball landscape in the Northeast has changed. More and more Northeastern players are beginning to realize that they can compete with players from traditional baseball hotbeds. That confidence has its roots in the rise of another player that Billy Godwin had recruited at East Carolina: Mike Trout. Trout’s ascent to greatness has lit a fire in the Northeast.
The New Jersey-bred Trout first visited East Carolina when his travel team, Tri-State Arsenal, played on campus following Trout’s sophomore year. Trout fit the profile. “This guy is physical, he can run,” Godwin remembers thinking. “The bat was raw, and so we thought we had a chance to get him, but his bat really came along as a senior.”
Trout’s athleticism was obvious as soon as he stepped onto the field. It wasn’t a matter of if he’d become a star or not. It was a matter of when he’d take that next step forward.
While not playing baseball year-round can lead to Northeasterners being less polished, they can also more easily play other sports, which many scouts feel can provide a significant advantage.
“Mike played football. That athleticism was a direct result of him playing multiple sports,” Godwin said. “Every sport forces you to use a different athletic skill set, and playing multiple sports teaches you different kinds of leadership skills.”
Sometimes, prospects aren’t ready to give up on other sports. This year, Pennsylvania outfielder Brandon McIlwain opted to dodge the draft, enrolling early at South Carolina to play both baseball and football.
“When the season does come, you have to be ready to put the other sports down and commit yourself to baseball,” Jeff Hoffman said. There’s a healthy understanding of the value in other sports, but it’s important for baseball players to prove that they love the game of baseball.
Anderson has focused exclusively on baseball since he got to high school. This winter, he’s added about 10 pounds of muscle, but he’s still just scratching the surface of his potential.
“When you look at the northeast player—look at the Trouts and Springers—you can see when they’re amateurs, they might not be as polished as the Southeast or West coast kids,” one scouting director said. “Then they start getting into the schedule of playing every day, and the crudeness starts to wear off.”
The hope is that as Anderson ages and matures, that crudeness will wear off. This spring, he wants to cut down on his walks and continue to add strength.
While no player will ever be like Mike Trout, the idea of projection applies similarly to Anderson, and to a lesser extent Hoffman.
Ian Anderson is going to be very good. It’s a matter of when, not if.