The Braves announced this morning that they’ve selected the contract of top pitching prospect Ian Anderson and reinstated outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. from the injured list. Anderson will make his Major League debut and start tonight’s game. In a pair of corresponding moves, right-hander Touki Toussaint and catcher Alex Jackson were optioned to Atlanta’s alternate training site.
Anderson, 22, was the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2016 and has steadily ranked among the game’s 50 or so best prospects over the past three years. He spent the 2019 season with the Braves’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, pitching to a combined 3.38 ERA with 11.4 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 44 percent grounder rate. Like so many pitchers, Anderson was blown up in the explosive offensive setting in Triple-A last year, surrendering five homers in 24 2/3 frames. However, he only yielded eight big flies in 111 innings of Double-A work.
Scouting reports on Anderson peg him as more of a mid-rotation starter than a frontline ace. His fastball climbs to 96 mph, and Anderson garners praise for a plus curveball and a changeup that’s a bit behind that offering, though all three are considered above-average pitches.
Given the considerable rotation woes they’ve experienced in 2020, there’s some pressure on Anderson to put forth a strong debut effort. It’s not exactly fair to put such lofty expectations on a young prospect, but Atlanta has lost Mike Soroka (torn Achilles), Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis), Felix Hernandez (opted out of 2020) and Mike Foltynewicz (outrighted after his fastball velocity dipped 6 mph) from its expected early-season rotation. Sean Newcomb, meanwhile, was optioned to the alternate site after surrendering 17 runs in 13 2/3 innings. Kyle Wright and Toussaint both posted underwhelming numbers in four starts apiece as well. The Braves have recently leaned on swingman Josh Tomlin and waiver claim Robbie Erlin to start games for them.
The Braves waited on Anderson long enough that he’ll miss out on Super Two status and the opportunity to accrue a full year of Major League service in 2020. As such, even if he’s in the big leagues for good, Anderson won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2023 season and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2026 season. Future optional assignments could further impact those timelines, of course, though the organization surely hopes that he pitches his way into a permanent rotation spot.
The return of Acuna is obviously a major boon for the Braves as well. He’s missed the past 10 days due to a left wrist injury but had rebounded from a slow start to boost his line to .258/.372/.515 at the time of his IL placement. In 10 August games, Acuna was hitting .364/.488/.818 with four homers and three doubles.