Craig Anderson: Against the Odds

Craig Anderson will never pretend to be an overpowering pitcher, but that hasn't stopped him from putting together five-consecutive successful seasons in the Mariners' minor league system. InsidethePark.com caught up with the 23-year-old recently to talk to him about Spring Training.

Take one look at Craig Anderson, and you'd ask yourself how he's a guy who takes the mound every fifth day for a professional baseball team. Take one look at his fastball, and you'd ask yourself the same question, probably with more wonder.

Yet Anderson, a lanky Australian whose fastball tops out at 84 miles-per-hour, has been one of the Mariners' top minor league pitchers since signing with the organization in February of 1999. In five minor league seasons, he's ran his record to 52-32 and never had an ERA over 3.71.

How has the 23-year-old Aussie done it? With a little persistence and a lot of hard work.

Taking the Jamie Moyer approach to pitching, Anderson has been forced to get by with tremendous control, mixing speeds and location to perfection.

The results tell the story.

Anderson has moved up one level each year, starting out at Everett in 1999. There, he led the Northwest League in wins (10), complete games (2), shutouts (1) and innings pitched (90.0). That was just the start of good things to come.

He went 11-8 with a 3.71 ERA at Wisconsin in 2000, then 11-4 with a 2.26 ERA at San Bernardino in 2001. The next year he went 7-7 with a 3.20 ERA at San Antonio, then kept the pace with a 13-11 record and 3.56 ERA at Tacoma last year.

You want consistency? Anderson is your man.

This spring, the native of Ourimbah, Australia got the long-awaited opportunity to get in some innings for the big league club at Spring Training. His numbers - 3.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 0 K - show that he struggled to make a positive impression on M's manager Bob Melvin and the rest of the team's brass, but Anderson says he came away feeling good about the experience.

"I was a little bit nervous," he admitted. "But it was good to go face some pretty good hitters. I got to see the difference between Triple-A hitters and big league hitters."

The differences?

"There wasn't a whole lot," said Anderson. "Just like any step up, if you make a mistake, you're going to get hit."

More than anything, the young lefty said he enjoyed just getting out on the mound and throwing with a tremendous defense behind him.

"It was awesome having guys like Bret Boone, Rich Aurilia and John Olerud behind me," he said. "It was a bit overwhelming, but I had to try not to let it get to me."

Anderson showed promise in both outings. Against Kansas City, he walked a few guys and had to pitch his way out of trouble, which he did. Then against Anaheim, he came in to face a lefty with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, getting the batter to ground out. It wasn't until the eighth inning that he got touched up for a couple runs.

After an interleague game days later, he got a little advice from Moyer on what to do differently in the future. Anderson says he appreciates the time the M's left-handed veteran spent with him this spring, and hopes it will pay off in the future.

"He's always there to talk to," said Anderson, who'll start the season at Tacoma. "You can always talk to Jamie and ask him questions."

While other pitchers have spent time this spring learning new pitches, Anderson says he's spent his refining the ones he already has in his arsenal.

"I think I need a little more consistency with the curveball," he said. "I need to try to get away from the typical. I'm trying to get out of certain patterns.

"If I'm usually throwing the cut fastball inside, I'm working on throwing it outside. It's basically the same pitches I'm working on, just more variety."

Assisting Anderson this spring has been Rafael Chaves, who has amazingly been his pitching coach during four of his five minor league seasons, moving up through the system at the same rate as the pitcher. This year, again, Chaves will coach Anderson, making the move from San Antonio up to Triple-A.

A favorite of many of the organization's young pitchers, Chaves is a person Anderson credits for much of his success.

"I think he knows how to treat his players," said Anderson. "I haven't had any problems with him in the four years he's been my coach."

Reunited again this year in Tacoma, there's no reason to believe that Anderson can't make the most of it and continue to have success in 2004 and beyond.

Not even an 84-mile-per-hour fastball has stopped him yet.


Joe Kaiser is the publisher of InsidethePark.com. He welcomes your feedback at joe-kaiser@excite.com.

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