When he was drafted by the Rockies in the first round in 2011 out of the University of Oregon, Tyler Anderson was touted as a "safe" pick—a low ceiling but high floor lefty that would be in the majors quickly as a mid to back of rotation starter. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out that way for Anderson and the Rockies.
Despite pitching very well at every professional level, the just turned 26 year-old Anderson has seen his predicted swift rise through the minor leagues hampered by injuries. Specifically, as Anderson said in an interview this past June with the Las Vegas Review Journal, he suffered a stress fracture in his left elbow while pitching for High-A Modesto in 2013 after suffering a sports hernia the year before. The injury limited him to 89 2/3 innings that year. According to Anderson, he then pitched through "nagging and intermittent" elbow pain throughout 2014 until the Rockies shut him down after the 2014 Texas League playoffs. Since that time, Anderson has not been throwing at all to give the stress fracture in his elbow more time to heal.
It's a real shame too, because Anderson really has been a fantastic minor league pitcher since being drafted. In 328 minor league innings across four levels (none above Double-A), Anderson has a 2.39 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and a 7.2 K/9. He was even better last year in Double-A, despite playing through pain. With the Tulsa Drillers in 2014, Anderson won the Texas League Pitcher of the Year award thanks to a 1.98 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, a .216 BAA, and a 8.1 K/9 over 118 IP. Those are fine numbers that show Anderson's ability to dominate relatively unsophisticated minor league hitters with his excellent command.
In the early stages of the 2014 season, Anderson was limited to a 75-or-so pitch count by the organization. Only in the second half of the year did the organization allow him to toss more than 80 pitches in an outing (and never more than 100). Still, the caution wasn't enough to avoid a lost year in 2015.
I'm truly interested to see if Anderson, who has been labeled a back-end starter prospect most of his professional career, can use his great command to get major league hitters out consistently. Before that occurs though, he'll have to prove that his left arm is healthy and that it can carry a major league starter's workload.
Before we knew that 2015 would be a lost season for Anderson, he was rated as a future starter by national prospect gurus. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs slapped a 50 Future Value (No. 4 starter) grade on Anderson and ranked him seventh in the system:
The big lefty makes you pause due to the funky delivery, but it creates deception and he's a good enough athlete to make it work for him command-wise. The stuff is at least as good as in college if not a little better: Anderson hit 95 mph earlier this month, but sits 89-92 mostly. His changeup is a weapon to get swings and misses but the question is on the breaking ball. He tinkers with a slider, curveball and cutter at times, but should be able to settle with at least one fringy/useable pitch to keep hitters off his best two pitches.
Meanwhile, Nick Faleris of Baseball Prospectus had Anderson ranked eighth in the system prior to 2015 and gave him a likely future projection of a No. 5 starter:
Strengths: Pitchability lefty; comfortable working in and out with average arsenal; mechanics come with some funk, adding deception and allowing average fastball velocity to play up; plus low-80s changeup projects heater through bulk of journey before late tumble; short slider/cutter is a weapon, regularly sliding up handles and off barrels; curve is serviceable as change of pace; hitchy motion and arm action disrupt hitter timing.
Weaknesses: Lacks durability; stuff is fringy on paper; deception and quirks may not be enough to keep major-league bats off center; razor-thin margin for error in zone; lacks go to swing-and-miss offering for same side bats.
When healthy, Anderson relies on guile and deception in implementing a vanilla collection of pitches to surprising effect. The changeup is an equalizer, particularly nasty against oppo-side bats thanks to late fade and tumble, and he continues to improve upon his sequencing and placement to get the most out of an average fastball and short slider. Anderson could join Gray in a Triple-A assignment to start 2015, and should be available to help out in Colorado as soon as an opportunity arises, be it in the rotation or as a lefty arm out of the pen. The upside isn't great, but there's value in a steady, back-end arm provided he can stay healthy long enough to rack up some innings.
Obviously the injury this season caused Anderson to sink in the mind of voters (and of national prospect watchers like MLB.com's Jim Callis, who left Anderson completely off the top 30 Rockies end of year prospect list). Honestly, I think people may be selling the value of Anderson a little short with this placement (I placed him 14th in what is now the deepest system since I've been following it) given his minor league production, but I don't blame voters for taking a wait-and-see approach with Anderson's health.
The Rockies placed Anderson on their 40 man roster this past off-season and moved him to the 60 day DL in July, so he's already accrued 86 days of big league service time and has used one minor league option. Ideally, Anderson is able to resume throwing in semi-competitive situations this spring, with the most likely destination after that being AAA Albuquerque. If he proves his mettle with the Isotopes (which is already presuming a lot given his health history), I would not be surprised to see Anderson called up into the starting rotation later in 2016 if the need arises. In a very deep Rockies system, Anderson has arguably the best chance to be a surprise positive contributor to the 2016 team.