SURPRISE, AZ – No, that’s not Bronson Arroyo in the picture above. It’s Tanner Anderson, the right-handed senior taken out of Harvard in the 20th round of the 2015 draft.
Pitchers who get drafted in the 20th round or later, especially when they’re college seniors, usually don’t amount to much more than A-ball depth. Most of them don’t make it to the upper levels. They definitely don’t go to the Arizona Fall League. The only thing notable about them would be if they have some sort of crazy delivery, which Anderson definitely has.
In his debut season, Anderson looked like he was just a guy with a crazy delivery, and not much more. He pitched 22.2 innings with Bristol, which isn’t the best assignment for a college senior, then was moved to Morgantown by the end of the year. He started the 2016 season in the West Virginia bullpen, which again wasn’t the best assignment for a guy who was a senior out of college. But by the end of the year he was a top reliever in Bradenton for their championship run, and found himself starting as a Pirates representative in the AFL.
So how did Anderson make this transition? And what is up with that delivery?
We’ll start with the delivery first, because that’s the first thing I noticed about him last year. Anderson has used this delivery since his sophomore year in high school. His coach suggested he try a higher leg kick, trying to get some more velocity. He decided to go for it, and over time, it became what it is now, where his leg is almost fully straight, and his foot is head-high.
“It wasn’t as defined as it is now, straight out and everything, but it was just higher in general,” Anderson said of the delivery back then. “It immediately allowed me to get more momentum and increase my velocity. I kept with the high leg kick, and over time it just kind of moved into that gradually. I’m not really sure if there was a clicking moment when it happened. I feel comfortable with it. It’s just caught on for me.”
Anderson said that a lot of people make the Bronson Arroyo comparison, and admits that it’s a very similar delivery. One interesting aspect of the delivery is that Anderson will look over to third base for a second, taking his eye off the plate.
“I don’t know if this is super common among pitchers, but I feel like a lot of guys, before they pitch, they might look at the ground for a second, and then reset on their target,” Anderson said. “I’ve heard it both ways. A lot of guys like looking the whole way, a lot of guys like looking away for a second.”
This is true. It can be common for pitchers to take their eye of the plate briefly, although most of them still have their head on target. In Anderson’s case, he moves his entire head off line, then brings it back, and surprisingly, it works for him.
“Something about me, it kind of resets,” Anderson said. “I don’t ever lose track of the target that I’m going for. It’s almost like a subconscious kind of thing that I just do. I don’t even really think about it. When I do it, everything just feels right, and it clicks.”
Obviously this delivery would only work from the windup, as the same delivery from the stretch would allow base runners to steal at-will. Anderson uses a shorter delivery from the stretch, while also varying his time to the plate with quick slide steps, which you can see a bit in the video above.
“I like to vary my times,” Anderson said. “The quickness is really there for base running. I just want to give my catcher an opportunity to throw them out. There’s nothing worse than a free bag.”
The delivery has been the same, but what led to Anderson going from a 20th round senior pitching most of his pro debut in rookie ball to pitching in the AFL a year later?
Part of this might be due to experience. Anderson was never really focused entirely on pitching in college. He only threw 46.1 innings in 2015, which was a career high. He didn’t pitch in 2014, and threw 44 and 31 innings respectively the two years prior.
“I wasn’t in an SEC team when they had 65 games and I was throwing 75 innings,” Anderson said. “I was really in a limbo, where I’d start, where I’d close, depending on the game situation. And I was also a two-way player. So I didn’t really focus primarily on pitching, and devoting as much time as I could to it.”
Anderson was only a pitcher in pro ball, which allowed him to focus exclusively on pitching. He said that extra time has allowed him to be more comfortable on the mound, and that it all feels “extremely natural” for him.
Anderson did see a bit of a velocity increase this year, topping out at 94 and 95 MPH at times, with some natural deception from his delivery, and good downward movement. He usually sits in the low-90s, and today he was 89-91 MPH in the later innings, touching as high as 93. He pitches off the fastball a bit more often than most players, sometimes rarely going to his secondary stuff.
“I like to think I have pretty decent command with the fastball,” Anderson said. “That’s kind of what I base everything off of. The fastball is my best pitch. I think it’s going to continue to be my best pitch. Sometimes I almost rely on it too much.”
Anderson has been focusing on the secondary stuff this year. He’s been working on fixes with his slider, trying to get comfortable throwing it in any count, and using it as an out-pitch. It hasn’t developed into a strong out pitch, but he can generate some swings and misses with it, showing improvement on his numbers through college, which saw a career 4.4 K/9.
He also added a changeup since moving to pro ball, and has been focusing lately on throwing that pitch and developing it as a third offering.
“My first season of pro ball, I was basically a fastball/slider guy,” Anderson said. “Probably towards the very end, I started throwing the changeup. I gripped it in the off-season, worked on it a good bit. But really, this year is the first time I’ve actually been throwing a changeup. So the development of that pitch is definitely on my mind.”
The Pirates have Anderson starting in the AFL, although that could be due to the fact that their only starting pitching prospect here, Alex McRae, had a lot of innings during the regular season. Anderson was used as a long reliever, and AFL starts are 3-4 innings, so this is normal regular season usage for him.
Today, Anderson went four innings, giving up three hits and one run, although two of the hits were questionable. One of them definitely should have been an error, after the ball was hit directly at the first baseman at medium speed, and went right past him. The second one was a bit tougher, with the shortstop attempting a diving stop, and letting the ball get away from him. That was a hit, but allowed an extra base, which led to a run that wouldn’t have scored otherwise.
Anderson has some sink to his fastball, and gets a lot of ground balls, so these kinds of things will happen to him. That makes it important to develop a secondary pitch, so he doesn’t have to rely on the fastball alone, and so he can have something to get him out of a jam when ground balls find their way through the infield.
We had Anderson as an organizational player with a 2.0 upside in last year’s Prospect Guide, which was justified, as he wasn’t a prospect at that point. I don’t know where he will end up in this year’s rankings, or what his upside will be yet, but I do know that he’s moved away from non-prospect status. He’s still more a fringe prospect, with an upside of a middle reliever. That requires him continuing the strides he took this year, and it wouldn’t hurt to improve the slider a bit.
That’s not the highest upside, but it’s not bad for a 20th round college senior who was treated like a non-prospect in his pro debut. And if the upside provides a small chance for that delivery to reach the majors one day, then it will be worth it.