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California League Profile: Chris Anderson

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The league's strikeout leader was also one of the league-leaders in issuing free passes.

Dodgers prospect Chris Anderson throws a pitch in his Rancho Cucamonga debut
Dodgers prospect Chris Anderson throws a pitch in his Rancho Cucamonga debut
Steve Saenz

Chris Anderson, RHP Los Angeles Dodgers (Rancho Cucamonga)

The Dodgers selected Anderson 18th overall in 2013 out of Jacksonville University, and he was able to log 46 innings in the Midwest League that summer after signing quickly. The stuff overwhelmed many a Single-A hitter, as he whiffed nearly 10-per-nine while allowing just 32 hits and compiling a 1.96 ERA over those innings. John gave him a B- grade last winter, rating him seventh in the Dodger organization and noting the power arsenal though alluding to a potential bullpen future for Anderson without secondary development and a leap forward in command. This past season he headed to California, where I had the chance to see him at both his best and worst, as well as one start somewhere in the middle. Despite making some nice strides I can’t say that Anderson’s done much to answer the future role question as yet.

Anderson’s a big kid, checking in at a listed 6’4" and 215 pounds, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually wore an extra 10-15 pounds on top of that. He’s got a thick middle, high waist, and broad, sloped shoulders, looking every bit the part of a workhorse starter out of central casting. His mechanics underwent some significant changes throughout the season but remained geared throughout towards a high-three quarter arm slot. He consistently does a nice job generating vertical extension and using his size to create a steep angle at release from that slot.

First the early season mechanics: his initial step-back had some rigidity to it, but the takeaway and coil were generally fluid. The wind had a decent amount of overall length, though, and the mechanics were low-lighted by a couple poor habits that contributed to difficulties repeating his delivery. He really closed off his hips on his turn for one, pointing his front foot almost straight back towards second base. That led to a much longer progression through his checkpoints as he pushed off and generated forward momentum, and it set the tone for a persistent issue leaving his arm behind. The other main flag was a leg kick that popped out towards third base before his front foot drifted back towards the landing spot as he fired off his back leg.

These issues would team up and lead to inconsistent timing throughout the wind, a spotty front-foot plant, and difficulties keeping himself balanced. He’d struggle – mightily at times – to get over his front leg and drive through his release point, and when that happened he’d cut off his delivery and leave the ball up and out to his arm side with regularity.

My final viewing of the season showed some progress in addressing both issues, as his delivery on the whole was dramatically simplified and he was notably more consistent in getting his hips open and driving the front foot towards the plate. Where the command and control in earlier viewings were well below-average, both ticked up into the 40-45 range late in the year. Still fringy, but showing noteworthy improvement.

Stuff-wise, a four-seam fastball is his primary weapon. He’s able to hold the pitch in the 92-94 range throughout his starts, with an extra gear to 95-96. It plays as a fairly straight pitch, though he generates good plane from the high release that helps the offering overcome some of his loose command and play true to its velocity. It’s a 60 fastball when he’s able to spot it with reasonable consistency, but there’s at least a half-grade of projection embedded in that mark to account for, well, his current lack of reasonable consistency.

He showed two breaking pitches early in the year with both a slider and curve in his pocket, but only featured the former in my late-season look. If that’s a sign that he’s shelved the curve for good I’d support the decision. While the pitch added a helpful third velocity band it showed as a fringe offering with a loose, rolling shape that lacked the kind of late bite out of his high arm slot to make for a true 12-6 weapon. The long arm action also left him susceptible to hanging the pitch.

The slider, on the other hand, shows a good bit of promise with legitimate two-plane action that played well off his fastball and can miss bats. The shape can be inconsistent, with solid horizontal action but north-south movement that comes and goes. When he snaps it off correctly it flashes as a 60-future pitch, but between current inconsistencies in shape and command it plays to a 45/50 offering at present.

His change-up is a final offering that shows a bit of promise yet still requires a good bit of projection between its present and potential. It’s a firm change, routinely tracking in the 85-87 band and pushing into the upper-80’s when he doesn’t turn it over. When he does it shows nice fade and dive down in the zone, but it’s a dangerous pitch when it flattens out. Lack of velocity separation makes it less of a swing-and-miss offering, meaning he’ll really need to rely on command down in the zone for effectiveness. If that comes it has the makings of a 50-future pitch, but it plays well below that at present.

So what do we have here at the end of the day? The arsenal overall flashes as a potentially above-average mix, with two pitches in his fastball and slider that have the makings of above-average to plus options and a third offering that could reasonably develop into a solid-average compliment. Still, it remains a wide open question as to how much in the way of realizable projection there really is here.

Even with the simplified mechanics late season he still struggled to come through his pitches consistently, showing a particular propensity to lose finish on the fastball and leave it leaking to the arm side. It wasn’t a problem against High-A hitters, as it’s a legitimate weapon already. But even with last year’s "great leap forward" I still have trouble projecting even 50-grade future command. And while the stuff is good it doesn’t add up to the kind of plus package where he’ll be able to turn over Major League lineups if the command remains fringe-average.

It would be unwise to discount entirely the possibility that he does continue to make progress in refining his execution. The gains he made this season were impressive, and he incorporated legitimate mechanical adjustments that contributed directly to the improvement. The delivery is about as bare bones as it could reasonably be at this point, however, and significant command questions remain even with the cleaner process.

He’ll be a guy to watch at AA this season, both to see if the late-season command gains hold and whether future improvement materializes. His length leaves me skeptical, and while he projects the ceiling of a number four starter his current course probably has him tracking to a future home in the bullpen. If he does end up in a relief role the fastball certainly has enough hump to play up in short spans, and the slider offers enough of a legitimate secondary compliment that he would project to a high-leverage future even with below-average command.