Braves stick to pitching-centric script, tab prep arm Ian Anderson at No. 3 overall
The rich get richer in the department of pitching prospects as the Atlanta Braves tabbed Ian Anderson, a prep right-hander out of New York, with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.
Anderson becomes the third high-school pitcher taken in the first round by the Braves' front office duo of John Hart and John Coppolella over the past two years, following 2015 selections Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka. A product of Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, N.Y., Anderson is a 6-foot-3, 170-pound righty that quickly jumped up draft boards — drawing Atlanta's brass out in force to his latest start on Saturday, where he struck out 16 to help push his team to the state championship.
When asked about Anderson's top strength, Braves scouting director Brian Bridges did not hesitate: Command. He even threw out a lofty player comparison.
“Mike Mussina. No question," Bridges said. "We sent (top scout) Gordon Blakely up there, who’s seen Mike Mussina grow and mature as a pitcher. John Smoltz (compared) him to (Mets All-Star Jacob) deGrom.
"The kid’s been as high as 97. That’s going to come. You see guys who are throwing really hard now, but there’s a difference in pitching now. I think pitching is a lost art. A lot of kids throw for the radar gun, and they don’t learn the art of pitching. If you learn the art of pitching and you do have stuff, the road can be a lot shorter to the major leagues.”
The 18-year-old ranked 13th overall on MLB Pipeline's board entering the draft and projects to boast three plus pitches once he fills out his frame.
“My command is definitely one of my biggest strengths right now," said Anderson, who is the Braves' first top-five draft pick since 1991. "Just being able to move the fastball in and out, up and down. Being able to locate the curveball and changeup. That’s definitely helped me a ton.”
The Braves were rumored to have an under-slot deal in place with Anderson before the draft began, which is a strong possibility given that the franchise had its pick of the pitching litter, including higher-rated names like Jason Groome, Riley Pint and A.J. Puk. Atlanta could save up to $3 million to spend later in the draft, notably with Wentz and Muller, by selecting Anderson, giving them the flexibility to sign a more complete, well-rounded class.
The Braves entered the draft with the third-highest bonus slot pool at just north of $13 million, behind only the Phillies and Reds. If the Braves are able to spread around the bulk of that pool money to sign the Anderson-Wentz-Muller trio, they just might have landed three of the 25 best prospects in this class. In fact, Bridges said all three pitchers ranked top-20 on the organization's board entering Thursday's opening rounds.
"I say that I took the best pitcher available on the board that we felt as an organization, as a scouting department, as a room," Braves scouting director Brian Bridges said when asked if the Anderson pick was motivated by financial factors. "We feel like this guy better fits our organization moving forward."
For his part, Anderson said he expects to sign quickly following his high-school graduation on June 23.
Anderson joins arguably baseball's deepest farm system in terms of high-upside young arms, joining the likes of Allard, Soroka, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint, Aaron Blair, Lucas Sims, Max Fried and Tyrell Jenkins, among others. Throw in Wentz and Muller and call it an overwhelming surplus.
The organization still needs to find impact bats either through the draft or international free agency, which could be the focus as the Braves round out the top of their class on Day 2.