At such a time, trust doesn’t come easy (if it comes at all.) The Atlanta Braves have the worst record in the major leagues. One of their biggest acquisitions of last season is suspended through Aug. 1 for domestic abuse. They fired their nice-guy manager. They’ve discarded nearly every player whose name you’d know. They’re about to move to Cobb County.
And now the Braves, who have hit less than half as many home runs as the second-worst team in that fairly significant category, took with their highest draft pick in 25 years not a college bat but another high school arm. Ian Anderson was ranked the 16th-best player available by Baseball Prospectus, the 13th-best by MLB Pipeline and the 12th-best by Baseball America. The Braves took him No. 3 overall. And maybe you’re saying, “Can these guys do ANYTHING right?”
But here’s where trust comes in. (Or doesn’t, depending on your slant.) The Braves didn’t take Anderson just because they thought they could get him for under-slot money and thereby have more to spend on subsequent draftees, though that’s surely a consideration. The Braves took Anderson because they love the guy’s talent.
They did what every big-league team is supposed to do. They scouted like crazy. (And the Braves have hired a bunch of new scouts and rehired others under this administration.) They watched Kyle Lewis, the Mercer outfielder who was Baseball America’s collegiate player of the year, in a private workout this week. They saw Anderson throw a big game last weekend. They love his arm. They like his makeup. They believe he can be really, really good. And isn’t that all any draft pick is — a team having watching and evaluated now hoping for the best?
I understand if you’re not willing to give the Braves the benefit of many doubts. Their big-league product — the one most people see — is wretched. The fruits of their farm system, which admittedly is rated the best in the business, are still months if not years away. But this much I know: The Braves do nothing lightly, nothing that hasn’t been thought through and hashed out. They’ve gotten stuff wrong; they will again. But they’re not apt to be outworked and out-thought.
I haven’t seen Anderson pitch. (Or Lewis hit, for that matter.) You probably haven’t, either. The Braves have a dozen guys who have. And it’s worth noting that, even with the Florida lefty A.J. Puk — some believed he’d go No. 1 overall — there for the taking, the Braves chose the high school righty from Shenendehowa, N.Y.
They might well wind up whiffing on this pick. Christopher Crawford of Baseball Prospectus has ripped it, writing: “I don’t think he has a ton of upside.” Eric Longerhagen of ESPN Insider, on the other hand, notes that “Anderson was under-scouted this spring because of bad weather in his area and an illness he battled.” (Is it possible the Braves outhustled other teams?)
The Braves love Anderson’s arm, and if they can sign him for $3.5 million instead of the slotted $6.5 million and use the savings to secure high-upside high school lefties Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller — Picks No. 40 and 44, respectively — they’ll love that, too. (The Braves do covet those high school pitchers. They make no pretense about it.)
I’ve said it before, but here it is again: The Braves know what it is they want to do. There’s no guarantee their plan will yield even a wild card berth, but they do have a plan. You’re free to distrust them and everything they try. (Lots among you do, I know.) I choose otherwise. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.