Just like his mid-90s fastball, the buzz around Ian Anderson in the final days before Thursday’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in Secaucus, N.J., was right on point.
After months of speculation the Shenendehowa senior would go in the first round’s teens, the Atlanta Braves confirmed the rumors of the past few days with their selection of the right-handed pitcher with the third overall pick.
Anderson’s first hug went to mom Karen when the pick was announced, the second to dad Bob.
“It was pretty awesome to see my parents’ reaction. They got pretty emotional about it,” said Anderson, who said his cellphone’s battery quickly drained from all the congratulatory text messages he received. “It was such a special moment.”
Anderson was one of two draft picks in attendance; the other was Will Benson, a scholastic outfielder from Atlanta. Anderson and Benson were teammates last summer with the USA Baseball 18U national team, which won a world championship in Japan.
Anderson, 18, is the second Capital Region native in as many years to be a first-round selection in the MLB draft directly from the high school level. In 2015, the Tampa Bay Rays selected Niskayuna’s Garrett Whitley with the No. 13 pick. Overall, Anderson’s selection marked the third year in a row for a local product to go in the first round, as the Toronto Blue Jays selected pitcher Jeff Hoffman — a Shaker graduate who played at East Carolina University — with the ninth overall pick in 2014.
“It’s awesome. Just awesome,” said Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu, who attended the draft. “This is unbelievable.”
As the third pick, Anderson is the highest-ever selection from the Capital Region, a distinction that previously belonged to Saratoga Central Catholic graduate Tim Stauffer. He was taken fourth in 2003.
“He is going to last,” MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons said of Anderson, comparing him to Mike Mussina. “He is a 10-year guy.”
MLB analyst and Hall of Famer John Smoltz compared Anderson to Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets.
“I like the arm action,” Smoltz said. “This is a good signing for this team.”
In the days leading up to the draft, Shenendehowa pitching coach Keith Lansley said it was hard work and natural talent that made his prized pupil special.
“Oh, it’s genetics,” Lansley said of the 6-foot-3, 175-pound pitcher. “There’s no magic bullet out there. You’re born with it and then it’s whether you can harness it.”
As a senior, Anderson has pitched an abbreviated season after dealing with illness and injury for most of April. In six appearances, he has struck out 47 batters in 35 innings while going 4-1. His last three starts, all in the postseason, have seen him strike out 33 batters in 21 innings while not allowing an earned run.
“He’s kind of your classic projectable high school pitcher,” MLB.com senior writer Jim Callis said. “He’s 6-foot-3, he’s got strength, and he can hit the mid-90s with his fastball.”
Per Callis, front office personnel from the Braves had been “out in force” for Anderson’s most recent start. That was last Saturday against Cicero-North Syracuse, a win in which Anderson struck out 16 batters and allowed two hits.
“That enhanced his situation,” Christodulu said.
The No. 3 pick comes with a signing bonus of up to $6.51 million. Callis had said if the Braves were to select Anderson, the team would likely offer him about half that amount.
In a press conference with reporters after the selection, Braves scouting director Brian Bridges was dismissive of the role the size of a potential signing bonus for Anderson played in the decision to draft him.
“I’d say that I took the best pitcher available on the board,” he said.
Anderson said “for the most part, it’s pretty done” when it comes to his decision to become a professional, but he cannot sign a contract until after his June 23 high school graduation. He had previously signed to attend Vanderbilt University.
Back home at a watch party made up of a few hundred of Anderson’s friends, Shenendehowa baseball players and area fans at the Ravenswood Pub and Restaurant in Clifton Park, raucous cheers erupted with his selection. Frank Pizzo, Shenendehowa’s senior third baseman, had worn a Braves hat Anderson had given him last year to the party.
“Everyone’s just so excited for Ian,” Pizzo said. “But he’s still got one more game to pitch for us.”
Anderson is expected to pitch Saturday in the Class AA state semifinals for Shenendehowa at Binghamton University, where his battery mate and twin brother, Ben, is signed to play next season.
Anderson said he was spending Thursday night celebrating at a hotel, but planned to be at today’s workout with the Plainsmen.
“And as soon as I step on the field for practice, I’m going to be focusing on Saturday,” he said.