CUMBERLAND — Ian Anderson has a chance to make his major league debut this season.
As the Atlanta Braves’ top pitching prospect, that could be sooner than later. If the 21-year-old does get the call, he already has a built-in support group that can tell him what it is like to be a rookie in Atlanta.
One of Anderson’s best friends is current Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter.
Anderson and Huerter were Little League teammates and went on to play baseball together at Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, New York.
As Anderson stuck with baseball and Huerter moved on to play basketball at Maryland, both went on to be first-round draft picks in their respective sports, and now both find themselves down South.
Huerter is in his second season in the NBA, part of the Hawks’ young core alongside Trae Young and John Collins.
“We were very close (growing up),” Anderson said during last Saturday’s Chop Fest at Truist Park. “We played baseball together in high school. I played basketball a little bit, but not too much.
“He went to Maryland and did his own thing there. People were talking that he may go a little higher (in the NBA draft), but the Hawks were pretty lucky to grab him. He’s loved it and kind of taken off with the chances he’s gotten.”
Anderson, the third overall pick of the 2016 draft, hopes to take off with his own chance this season.
The Braves have a projected starting rotation of Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, Cole Hamels and Max Fried. They invited former American League Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez to camp on a non-guaranteed deal, and a number of other young pitchers — including Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint and Sean Newcomb — will join Anderson in a competition for the fifth starter spot.
Odds are Anderson will start at Triple-A Gwinnett, but he has all spring to prove he is worthy of starting the season in Atlanta.
“It’s going to be quite a bit different,” Anderson said, looking ahead to his second major league spring training, beginning as pitchers and catchers report in two weeks to North Port, Florida. “Just having more camaraderie with the guys, I think this being my second time around, I’ll be a little bit more comfortable. There is definitely a little more compete coming in for me this year knowing there could be a spot or a few spots so I’m looking forward to getting down there and getting to work.”
Knowing there is a realistic chance that he will make his major league debut at some point this season, Anderson is eager to learn what he can from seasoned veterans Hamels and Hernandez.
“Such an awesome resource to have even for the four or five weeks of spring training,” Anderson said. “You can’t see it all in this game, but they’ve seen pretty close to it all.”
Anderson is coming off a season in which he split time between Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett. For the year, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound right-hander went 8-7 with a 3.38 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 135 2/3 innings.
“You always go into the season hoping you can put up some pretty good numbers and get a promotion,” Anderson said. “It’s nice to get rewarded.”
Anderson started the year at Mississippi and quickly became the ace of the staff.
He made 21 starts and was 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA. He showed his greatest potential in June, holding batters hit .165 with 43 strikeouts over 30 2/3 innings. His best effort came June 28 when he pitched seven no-hit innings and struck out 14 as part of a combined no-hitter against the Jackson Generals.
Later in the season, Anderson made five starts at Gwinnett. In his first taste of Triple-A ball, he went 1-2 with a 6.57 ERA, but he struck out 25 in 24 2/3 innings.
“It’s been a constant build-up working on the repertoire, working on the stuff, and the confidence that comes with putting up pretty good stats year in and year out,” Anderson said. “Just learning so much throughout the course of the season and maturing a little bit.”