The Atlanta Braves are ready to make history Friday night when they play their first home game at the newly opened SunTrust Park. Hours earlier and 55 miles to the northwest, the more distant future was on display.
Braves No. 6 prospect Ian Anderson struck out eight and allowed two hits and two walks over five scoreless innings Friday afternoon, notching his first Class A win as Rome rolled, 9-2, over Charleston at State Mutual Stadium.
Making the second start of his first full season, the 18-year-old right-hander, who throws in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball to go with an above-average slider and average changeup, wasted little time finding his groove, striking out the side in the first inning. He retired nine RiverDogs in a row to open the game -- six via the strikeout and each of those on swinging third strikes -- and threw first-pitch strikes to six of them.
"The biggest part was just attacking the hitters, going right after them," he said. "I feel like I was pitching ahead quite a bit, and that meant I could just pitch my pitches. That helped me control how things were going to go."
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Anderson broke his perfect run with a walk to Hoy Jun Park to open the fourth. He had two men reach in both the fourth and fifth but didn't allow a runner past second base in either case. Despite how well the first three frames went, the Rome starter altered his approach the second time through the lineup.
"The first time, it was mostly just fastball and breaking ball," he said. "They hadn't really seen the changeup yet, so we tried mixing that in a little bit more to give them another look. It definitely helped me get some of the big outs there and keep the zero up on the board."
Video: R-Braves' Anderson fans Florial
Anderson threw 47 of his 73 pitches for strikes before hitting his innings limit; 15 of those pitches resulted in swings and misses.
Taken with the third overall pick in 2016 out of an upstate New York high school, the 6-foot-3 hurler has acclimated himself well so far to the South Atlantic League. In his first two starts, he's allowed only one earned run on four hits and five walks while striking out 16 in 9 2/3 innings. That's impressive for a teenager who is supposed to be just finding his footing at the full-season level, but he's not trying to focus too much on the numbers just yet.
"It's good to get off to a hot start," he said. "But for all I know, I could come out in my next start and get knocked down to earth pretty easily. That's just the way the game goes. You have to stay pretty even-keeled, no matter what, so that's what I'm trying to do."
MLB.com's No. 82 overall prospect arrived in Rome as an expected stud of a young rotation that already includes 2016 draftees Joey Wentz (collective bargaining round A), Bryse Wilson (fourth round) and Jeremy Walker (fifth round) and is expected to add Kyle Muller (second round) from extended spring training before long. It's reminiscent of the Rome rotation that sported six of Atlanta's top 30 prospects at various times last season en route to a Sally League championship.
Naturally, Anderson spent his first Spring Training asking questions of those former Rome starters about what to expect in his transition to Class A. The advice was uniform across the board.
"They all said Rome is one of the best stops you'll make as a Braves Minor Leaguer, so enjoy it while you're there," Anderson said. "It's obviously a great league, too. After those guys won a championship here, it kind of puts some high expectations on us for this year, and we want to do our best to meet them."
Beyond following in the footsteps of top pitching prospects like Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, Anderson's assignment to Rome puts him in the heart of Braves country with Atlanta about an hour's drive away. With the Braves sporting one of the game's best farm system, interest in its prospects is at a high point, and it's palpable, according to Anderson.
"It's great because everyone who comes here is so passionate," he said. "Being this close is great, too, because the front office gets here quite a bit to check out the players. You can see they care, and that only helps your push to get up there."