TDG’s Triple Play: Atlanta Braves!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Paul Monte and a rotating panel of writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Ian Anderson, Age: 22, Position: SP
Analysis by: Patrick Magnus
The Home of the Brave
Twenty-twenty sucked. Plain and simple. Challange after challange after challange was presented. Baseball last year, and for many this year, is a welcome distraction—an odd combination of escapism while also being a flagrant and careless reminder of just how messed-up everything is.
For me, and I suspect many people around the world, baseball brings some sense of normalcy, and at times a much-needed venture into escapism. Narratives of younger players getting their shot in the majors are always among my favorite things to get lost in. Last season was no exception. Many talented young players got their shots. Among my favorites was none other than Ian Anderson. Anderson kicked down the goddamn door, and let everyone know he was here to stay.
Ian Anderson 2020 Debut: 32 IP – 11.41 K/9 – 1.95 ERA
Watching Anderson carve up the Red Sox last year was one of the more enjoyable experiences of mourning Mookie Betts while the team burned like a bright, bright trash-fire. Ever since that start I have been very intrigued with the Braves hurler.
Ambiguous Small Sample 2020 and the Madness of Analyzing Any of this Bullshit
When I call the man ambiguous, I’m not insulting him. Anderson, like many dynasty pitchers, is a bit of an unknown quantity. Not because people haven’t been scouting him for years, but because there is minimal data at the Major League level. Last year, I managed to catch a few Anderson starts throughout the previous year, and man is he good when he is on. He comes equipped with a three pitch-mix
- Four Seamer 94 MPH
- Change-up 85 MPH
- Curveball 80 MPH
The four-seamer and curve both lack spin rate and have just average rankings on most scouting reports. The changeup, however, receives strong grades and is Anderon’s bread and butter pitch, as it was responsible for the majority of Anderson’s strikeouts.
Ian Anderson, Nasty 88mph Changeup. ? pic.twitter.com/WmEucdq2h5— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 7, 2020
I’m not entirely sold on the sustainability of a change-up being your only plus pitch. However, Anderson’s curve induced 50% whiffs last year, and when batters did make contact with it, the ball generally went straight into the ground. In this sense, Anderson reminds me a bit of Max Fried, even if Fried’s worm-burner-inducing curve is way sexier.
Though the curve typically grades out as average from most scouts, I think it is a valuable piece of Anderson’s arsenal and an above-average offering, which increases the ceiling of the 22-year-old.
Where is the ball going?
A question on the minds of many young hard-throwing arms. 94mph heat these days might be more average than hard, but regardless of your definition of hard-throwing, Ian Anderson struggles with his control. Throughout the entirety of his time in the minors and now majors, Anderson has been unable to consistently locate his pitches.
Anderson’s control problems continued in his brief but triumphant stint last year. I suspect his 52% groundball rate probably had something to do with it. Success in this manner, though, isn’t expected. The only successful pitcher I managed to locate with a similar profile since 2017 is Sonny Gray.
Sonny Gray 2017-2020: 9.50 K/9 3.57 BB/9 51.3% GB 3.68 ERA
There just aren’t successful starters with this kind of profile, by which I am referring to results, not arsenal. Last year all those groundballs Anderson generated were met with a .250 BABIP. This means, unless Albies, Freeman, and Swanson continue to bail him out, he won’t repeat.
If Anderson doesn’t reduce the walks, he will not continue to succeed in a starter’s role. This is a genuine concern. At this point, we have at least four years of data indicating control problems. The likelihood that this doesn’t become a problem in the majors seems slim. I suspect growing pains on the way for Anderson, but the Braves roster seems poised to really let Anderson get his shot in the rotation. Here’s hoping we get something closer to Sonny Gray than a groundball version of Robbie Ray.
Austin Riley, Age: 23, Position: 3B
Analysis by: Paul Monte
Cat Scratch Fever
Dynasty teams are like your neighbor Ethel’s feral cat. She started with one and she loved that stray cat. The next season she had 3 cats, she still loved them all and would be ok with a few more. Fast forward a year, she has 13 cats. Two are missing body parts, 1 has fleas, and one is super old. How did that cat get so old so fast? She likes most of her cats but wouldn’t mind getting rid of a few. I’ll spare you all the rest, we all know how this story ends.
Who Are You?
Somehow even though you may run several teams, there are players that you don’t roster anywhere and because of that, you don’t follow them very closely. I have a lot of teams and Austin Riley is not on any of them. It’s not because I don’t like him, his profile was just too high for me as a prospect and then he had a great start to his 2019 season as a rookie. I missed the bus, which is a horrible feeling, but did not want to chase my mistake and give up way too much for the power-hitting 21-year-old. His 2019 debut started with 16 home runs in his first 183 at-bats but was followed by 2 home runs, a .154 average, and .202 OBP to close out the season. He entered 2020 unsure if he had a roster spot but was able to carve out a role and made some improvements. He lowered his K% to 23.8% and had a slight gain to his BB%. Average and OBP also saw slight improvements even though his BABIP dropped. At 6’3” and 240 pounds, his defense has been an issue and that did not change in 2020. He struggled in the outfield in 2019 and returned to third base in 2020. He was not good and the risk that he plays himself into a first base only player is very real. That’s not a good thing when you play in the National League (no DH, yet) and have Freddie Freeman on your team. Both of those could change in 2022 as the DH is coming and Freddie may be going.
Who, Who, Who, Who?
The Braves also added Jake Lamb, who had a bit of a resurgence in Oakland in 2020, and still have Johan Camargo on the roster but Riley will open the season as the starting third baseman. There will still be pressure to perform or he could become a platoon bat or, worse, a bench player. On the other hand, if he can continue to progress he could be a 30-homerun hitter. His exit velocity is in the 82nd percentile but he hit the ball on the ground too much to convert that into a home run total that matches the exit velocity. He’s still young enough at just 23 years old to make the necessary changes.
Because I Really Want to Know
The natural reaction is to root against the guy that you don’t roster anywhere, especially when they are doing well. I had a serious case of FOMO in 2019 but it has faded. I still have not seen enough to go out and actively look to trade for him either. He is a wait-and-see type player. If he struggles to begin 2021, he could be available more readily, but there will be plenty of risks should you decide to roster him.
Michael Harris II, Age: 20, Position: OF, Level: Single Low-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The 6’0″, 190-pound Georgia native turned 20 years young on March 7th. Harris attended Stockbridge High School, which is southeast of Atlanta, and was drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2019 draft. Also, a pitcher in high school (and having committed to Texas Tech as a two-way player), Harris was invited to big league camp this season, even though he has yet to appear about Single-A, which is what drew me to him for the Braves’ Triple Play.
Found on most Braves prospects lists in the 9-15 range, Harris has 50-grade speed with 55-grade raw power; although low hit and game power current grades of 20/45 (all grades taken from Fangraphs). He also projects as an above-average outfielder with a strong arm, leading to the possibility of being a big-league center fielder. Cristian Pache, the Braves top prospect, is about to take the job but Harris is still at least a season or two away from the majors and a lot can change in that time-frame. Harris has appeared in five games so far this spring for the Braves, as of this writing, to boot.
Minor Leagues Thus Far
Harris began his professional career playing in 31 games for the Gulf Coast Braves at Rookie Level, where he hit two home runs, stole five bases with a slash line of .349/.403/.514 in 119 plate appearances. That prompted a promotion to High-A Rome in the Sally League, where he struggled in 93 plate appearances, posting a .183/.269/.232 slash line with no home runs and only two steals. Being three and a half years younger than his Sally League peers with small sample size, let’s focus on the good; earning a promotion in season and doing well at Rookie ball.
Harris was interviewed during the Braves playoff run, and I gleaned a lot of information into his baseball acumen. I liked hearing that he was unhappy having to go home from Spring Training (yep, he was invited last year too) due to Covid but kept up his workouts (he said “stay ready” and “wanting to be ready to go at any time” at different times in the interview) so he did not have to ramp back up when they announced the 60-man developmental rosters. Harris is a humble-speaking individual who loves baseball and competing, which makes it easy to be a fan of his.
While attaining good experience against MLB pitchers at the alternate site Harris also played in two exhibition games against the Marlins before the 2020 season. Harris had a dedicated local fan base (complete with home-cooked meals when possible) in his first experience playing in Atlanta’s Truist Park. He also spoke about how he shifted from a pitcher (Harris possessed a 93-mph fastball in high school) to a hitter during his senior year, so much so the Braves drafted him as a hitter exclusively. He also expressed the want to take leadership opportunities (at only 20!) with drills and showing the younger Braves around the facility. Listening to Harris talk about his conversations with fellow outfielder prospect Drew Waters on how they approach the game would make me very happy about the future as a Braves fan (which I am not).
What to Expect, 2021 and beyond
While doing research one report read that he has “a body type that will slow with time,” and all I thought was, don’t we all? Anyway, Harris is a switch hitter, though it is highly possible he is converted to a left-handed hitter only sooner rather than later. Currently assigned to the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets, Atlanta appears to want Harris to work on some things before he returns to High-A Rome. My outlook has him hitting 25 home runs while stealing 20 bags with a .260 average in his prime, which definitely plays in most fantasy leagues. Harris has climbed prospect lists this off-season but in many Dynasty leagues he is still available. If you have the spot, Harris is a highly recommended add.
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