There's really only question for Giants reliever Brian Anderson: What can he possibly do for an encore?
Since being taken in the 14th round of the 2005 draft, the right-hander has pitched in two leagues. Both times, he not only led the league in saves, he set records in the category most often associated with closers. In the summer of 2005, it was the short-season Northwest League, where he saved 19 games (a Salem-Keizer record) and landed on the league's All-Star team.
This year, he led all Minor Leaguers with 37 saves, setting a California League record and earning not just California League Pitcher of the Year honors but the prestigious MiLB.com Class A Advanced Relief Pitcher of the Year Award.
"My opportunity to come in this year, being able to get to high-A that first year, I kind of second-guessed it at first," Anderson admitted. "But I got comfortable and my confidence rose. To get that award is a great accomplsihsment for me. That's going to be my goal from hear on out, to keep my confidence up and keep getting after it the way I did in 2006."
Of course, Anderson didn't get the award simply because of his gaudy save totals. The Long Beach State product also had a 1.86 ERA, a .183 opponents' batting average and a 85/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 67 2/3 innings. It was a nice follow-up from his 2005 campaign, when he had a 1.95 ERA and a ridiculous 42/3 K/BB ratio in 27 2/3 IP for the Volcanoes. For Anderson, once he got settled in, it was just a matter of trusting his stuff.
"What gave me the best accomplishments this year was being able to pitch behind in counts," Anderson said. "In college, I wasn't able to do that and use my slider or change-up behind in the count. This year, I had a lot more confidence in throwing my slider on a 2-0 count, things like that. I was able to develop that secondary pitch and throw it for a strike whenever I wanted to."
Anderson isn't exactly one to rest on his laurels. He headed to Hawaii and got in 17 1/3 more innings (and another insane 18/2 K/BB ratio), easily eclipsing his previous high for innings in a season.
"I was able to work on a couple of different pitches while getting used to the level of competition there," Anderson said. "Comparing high-A and the players that were out there, it was more of an all-star team. I'd say it was a little more competitive than high-A. I think the majority of the players would probably move up to Double-A, with the low-A players being able to move up to high-A."
Anderson will surely move up the Giants' ladder in 2007, at the very least to Double-A Connecticut. While the reliever can look back on his season with pride, he admits that he had moments of hoping to see the Constitution State a little bit earlier than that.
"There were a couple points in the year where I thought I was doing pretty well, pitching the way I wanted to and the way the coaches wanted me to, and I thought maybe I'd get a shot up there for a couple of days," Anderson said. "But to be on a winning team, that's what it's all about.
"To be the closer there, there was a save opportunity all the time. There was nothing like being able to throw that final pitch in the game to get the victory. Hopefully, in the years to come, they'll give me the opportunity to move up."
Anderson helped pitch San Jose to 82 regular-season victories and another playoff run. Other pitchers may be satisfied with that, but Anderson understands he needs to keep on working if he wants to keep bucking the odds as a later-round draft pick.
"I need to develop a pitch that goes away from lefties," said Anderson, who was "touched up" for a .216 batting average against lefties. "I didn't use my changeup as much as a I should've. I need to build some more confidence in that. I need to get more lefties out with the pitches I have."
That kind of drive should enable Anderson to continue to move up the Giants ladder and someday contribute in the San Francisco bullpen. When that comes is anybody's guess, but there's no question Anderson certainly has opened a lot of eyes with how he's started his pro career.
"It's a big deal for me, coming in as a 14th-round draft pick, to set records for saves in my first two seasons," Anderson said. "It's a stat, I know, that can be a blown out stat, if you're always coming in with a three-run lead and things like that.
"But you know you're in there for the very last play of the game and you're in there for a reason. The coaches have confidence in you, they trust you can get it done. It's a confidence factor being out there."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.