Barring the late signing of a veteran free agent such as Dallas Keuchel, the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation would appear to be set as spring training gets underway down in Clearwater, Florida.
Aaron Nola is the newly-signed young ace. Jake Arrieta fills the proven veteran role. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin are incumbents on the back-end trying to find consistency and elevate their games. Jerad Eickhoff is the returning-from-injury former rotation member trying to fight his way back in from the outside.
In the bullpen, veterans David Robertson and Juan Nicasio have been added to a group of right-handers that already included Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter and Edubray Ramos. One of the most exciting arms in the early going has been 22-year-old righty Edgar Garcia.
So where does all of that leave Drew Anderson? He will reach age 25 in exactly one month, before the end of the Grapefruit League season. He has been tantalized with a taste of the big-league life on a handful of occasions spread out over the past two seasons.
Anderson has an uninspiring 0-1 mark with a 7.80 ERA and 1.733 WHIP thus far over 15 innings with the Phillies across seven mound appearances, six of those out of the bullpen. He has surrendered 23 hits with a 13/3 K:BB ratio.
What exactly has earned the Phillies 21st round pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Galena High School in his hometown of Reno, Nevada a place on the current 40-man active roster?
Aside from his big-league struggles, Anderson has pitched very well over the course of a six-year professional career. He has risen incrementally through the system, making a stop at each of the Phillies minor league affiliates at one time or another. Anderson has pitched particularly well since missing the entire 2015 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery that April.
MINOR LEAGUE SUCCESS
When he returned in 2016, Anderson wowed by allowing just 55 hits across 70 innings with a 78/22 K:BB ratio over 15 starts split fairly evenly between Low-A Lakewood and High-A Clearwater. That earned the 22-year-old a spot on the Phillies roster that off-season during an overall roster shakeup by the club. He has remained there ever since.
In January of 2017, Ryan Lawrence for The Philly Voice asked then Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan about the club’s thought process in adding Anderson to the official roster. Jordan’s responses include:
“I think it may have surprised some people that would put him on, but it really wasn’t one that we discussed a lot. I don’t even remember if he was a consensus, but we got to ‘yes’ pretty quickly. It’s just easier to hide an arm in a major league bullpen when you plan on losing 100 games. We just feel like this guy has a chance to be a real meaningful rotation piece.”
“I like a lot about him. He’s got very good weapons to begin with, a good arm and a good breaking ball…he was a low-round high school pick but all he’s done is compete. He’s got a lot of confidence. I think he has a lot of the intangibles good pitchers have…He’s got a chance to be a good piece.”
In 2017, Anderson became an Eastern League All-Star while pitching with Double-A Reading where he went 9-4 while surrendering just 81 hits over 107.2 innings in an extreme hitter’s environment. That earned him a late-season audition with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where in his lone start he allowed just five hits over 6.2 innings while striking out seven batters.
BIG-LEAGUE CUPS OF COFFEE
Anderson also made his first two big-league appearances with the Phillies in August of that 2017 season. His debut in Major League Baseball came on August 1 with the Phillies visiting the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
Called on to pitch the bottom of the 8th inning with the Phillies already behind by 5-1, he retired the first batter that he faced, getting Martin Maldonado to sky out to center field. But he then surrendered singles to the next two hitters, who promptly took off in a double-steal. When catcher Andrew Knapp threw the ball away, one run scored and the other runner moved up to third base. he would subsequently score on a sacrifice fly.
With two outs and two runs in, having surrendered two hits, Mike Trout stepped to the plate. Per Todd Zolecki at MLB.com, the first pitch to the Angels superstar was a curveball that sailed over Trout’s head. “I was like, ‘Oh, boy, here we go,‘” said Anderson per Zolecki. “It was just all adrenaline.” Anderson won the battle, striking out the Angels star on a 2-2 pitch. “It was a rush. It was fun. I mean, I’m glad I got in and struck out Mike Trout.”
Anderson was optioned back to Reading the following day. Called up later that month, Anderson got into a game against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. The Cubbies bashed him around for five earned runs over just 1.1 innings that day. It would be his final appearance of the season.
Pitching most of last year back with the IronPigs, Anderson went 9-4 with a 3.87 ERA and 1.156 WHIP. He allowed 92 hits over 104.2 innings across 19 starts with an 84/29 K:BB ratio and was called up to make a handful of appearances with the Phillies. Over five games he yielded 17 hits across 12.2 innings.
His final 2018 appearance with the Phillies was by far his best to date. On September 28 at Citizens Bank Park against the first-place Atlanta Braves, Anderson shut the visitors out over two innings. He surrendered a lead-off double to Freddie Freeman in the 5th but then struck out the next three batters in a row. In the 6th he surrendered a harmless two-out single.
WHAT THE FUTURE MAY HOLD
Last month, Matt Winkelman at Phillies Minor Thoughts ranked Anderson at just 46th on his list of the club’s top 50 prospects, evaluating him as a #5 starter and possible middle reliever. Winkelman wrote up the following scouting report on Anderson:
“He fills up the up the strike zone, sitting mostly 91-95, touching up to 96 in the rotation. The problem has been his secondary pitches. Anderson’s curveball is an above average and usable pitch, but it isn’t a dominant bat misser. He will throw a changeup and slider, but both only top out at average. The collection of pitches allows Anderson to keep hitters off balance, but the lack of a dominant one among them means Anderson struggles to miss bats and generate weak contact. If Anderson can maintain solid control, he could carve out a role as a back end starting pitcher. However, given his limited upside in a rotation, he could move to the bullpen at some point. In a relief role he should throw harder, possibly touching back up into the 97+ range. It would also allow him to shorten his arsenal and focus on possibly just the curveball, possibly making it a plus secondary pitch.”
Knowing what the incumbent group has to offer, manager Gabe Kapler wants to see his youngest arms early. The first five starting pitching assignments of the spring have been allotted to those less experienced pitchers. Anderson is scheduled to go on Sunday in Lakeland, Florida against the Detroit Tigers.
The most likely scenario would find Anderson beginning the year as a key member of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs starting rotation. Based on his performance there, he would again become one of the first arms called up if the Phillies suddenly had a need for an emergency starter or bullpen arm. And there is also the possibility that he could be shipped elsewhere as part of a trade package at some point.
MORE FROM PHILLIES NATION:
- Bryce Harper update: All of the latest facts, rumors, innuendo and speculation
- Bryce Harper, $400 million and sticking to valuations
- Brad Lidge: Phillies made smart move not giving $300 million to Manny Machado
- Matt Klentak on Machado to Padres: “Sometimes you have to be willing to just walk away”
- Machado deal represents victory for players, puts pressure on the Phillies
- Phillies could bolster their bench depth by adding a veteran infielder
- Five of baseball’s greatest sluggers each blasted a milestone home run in Philadelphia
- Alec Bohm moves to the top of the Phillies prospect rankings
- Already baseball’s best catcher, J.T. Realmuto stands to get even better in 2019
- Mike Trout on joining the Phillies one day: “I can’t predict the future”