With spots on the 40-man roster at a premium this past offseason, some were surprised when the Phillies used one of those spots to protect Drew Anderson from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft. After all, Anderson hadn't pitched above High-A, had undergone Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of the 2015 season and the start of last season, as well. Then, he wound up back on the DL last August.
With that on the resume, it's hard to believe that there would have been other teams clamoring to take Anderson in the Rule 5 Draft, but the Phillies weren't taking any chances. Anderson, who turned 23 last Wednesday, has what most scouts consider to be a great arm, even with the Tommy John surgery. Phillies director of player development, Joe Jordan, told Matt Gelb of Philly.com this past January that some of the Phillies internal scouts consider Anderson to be "our best guy."
Anderson underwent the Tommy John surgery two years ago this April, just as the season was starting for the rest of the Phillies prospects. While he was unable to throw, Anderson spent his time working on his lower body strength and studying the game of baseball. When he was finally able to start throwing and eventually was able to really crank up his pitches, the low-90s velocity that he had prior to the surgery quickly came back around. The surprising part was when he surpassed that velocity and started hitting the mid-90s and eventually was occasionally pushing radar guns up to as high as 97.
Anderson opened last season with Lakewood late in May and slowly started to really piece things together. Ironically, after his seventh start of the season for Lakewood, which was far and away his worst (4 2/3 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 7 K), Anderson was promoted to Clearwater where he would spend the rest of the season. In a combined 15 starts between Lakewood and Clearwater, Anderson threw 70 innings, giving up just 55 hits and walking just 22 batters, while striking out 78. His combined ERA finished the year at 2.70 between Lakewood (3.38) and Clearwater (1.93).
Besides the fastball with improving velocity, Anderson has a curve which is slightly above average and getting better. Slightly below average, but also getting better, is where most scouts would rate his change-up. Just to keep hitters a little more off-balance, Anderson also has a slider, but it's lagging behind his other secondary pitches and isn't truly a weapon of choice at this point.
The Phillies were admittedly cautious with Anderson this past season, making sure that he always had at least five days rest between starts and watching his pitch load in each start. The result was that he didn't average even five innings per outing in 2016, but when he's completely cut loose in 2017, he should have the stamina to pitch deeper into games, thanks in part to the work he did on his legs during his rehab period.
This season will be a big one for Anderson, especially considering that the Phillies used his first of three options in March, sending him over to minor league camp. He'll be opening the year with Clearwater and should be able to progress to Double-A Reading at some point during the season. With his arrival in the majors at least two years away, and more likely, three, Anderson could get close to being a tough decision for the Phillies come spring training of 2020, when he'll be out of options, but likely won't have much, if any, major league experience.
In addition to having to pick up the pace a little, Anderson will, perhaps more importantly, have to show that he can stay healthy over the grind of a full season, otherwise the 'oft-injured' label is going to look a little more permanent on him.
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