REXFORD — Sitting at the kitchen table of their parents’ home on Monday, twin brothers Ian Anderson and Ben Anderson couldn’t resist the constant attention delivered by the family’s pet cat, Charlie.
Charlie, a domestic short-haired tiger cat, has been an important member of the Anderson household since their mother Karen found him in her horse barn five years ago, and Monday, Charlie made sure to put in some extra time with the two young men who only get to relax and enjoy the comforts of home with their family for a few more days.
Those days are dwindling, but for good reason. The Shenendehowa graduates who led their high school baseball team to a state championship as seniors are ready to dive into the next chapters of their respective baseball journeys. Ian, a first-round draft pick in 2016, is on the cusp of pitching for the Atlanta Braves, and Ben — a 13th-round pick last year after playing at Binghamton University — is just starting out his professional career in the Texas Rangers' organization.
“We’re ready to go,” Ben said. “We’ve waited to do this for a long time.”
Ben is scheduled to report to the Rangers’ spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona on Sunday, while Ian is slated to arrive at the Atlanta Braves’ new $125 million complex in North Port, Florida on Monday. The Braves will settle into their new ballpark on a 30-year lease after spending two decades at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.
“It’s a beautiful complex, and I’m really excited about it,” Ian said. “I was able to check out the facility and the area back in November. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ian will be one of 26 non-roster invitees — 17 position players and nine pitchers — in camp. He received the invitation on Jan. 22 and will report with pitchers and catchers on Feb. 12. It marks the second straight year Ian has been invited as a non-roster player; he was one of 20 invitees in 2019.
“Last year was a good learning experience,” said the 6-foot-3, 170-pound right-hander. “Definitely this year, I think I’m ready to take that next step and have a little more camaraderie with the guys from last year, so I think it’ll be good.”
Ian headlines the non-roster pitching group that also includes recent signee Felix Hernandez, a former Cy Young winner, who is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. Hernandez, who turns 34 in April, is coming off his worst season in the majors, going 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts for the Mariners last season.
Ian has been reported to be in the conversation for the fourth or fifth rotation spot, but the 21-year-old is heading into camp with a cautiously optimistic outlook. The Braves added Cole Hamels to the mix this winter and also have Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Sean Newcomb and Touki Toussaint in camp competing for that fourth or fifth starting spot, as well, while Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, and Max Fried are expected to be the top three pitchers in the Braves starting rotation. Gone from last year’s starting rotation are Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran.
“I just have to go down and do the best I can do,” Ian said. “When you count the 40-man active roster, there will be over 60 guys in camp. I’ll have an opportunity.”
Ian finished last season pitching at Triple-A Gwinnett in Georgia after dominating the competition at Double-A Mississippi where he posted a 2.68 ERA with 147 strikeouts against 47 walks in 111 innings. He limited opponents to a .202 average, the second-lowest mark in the Southern League.
“I’d like to go into camp and compete for a spot on the big league roster and if that doesn’t happen, I’ll go where I finished last year and build off what I did there,” Ian said. “Obviously, the end goal every day is just striving to get back up there. I’m still young. I’m going to be 22 in May, so I just take everything in stride and kind of do what I can with the opportunities I’m given.”
Ian’s repertoire features a fastball that currently sits between 92-95 mph and an improving 12-to-6 curveball that has become his biggest weapon.
“I’ve been working on my curveball and learning a lot about the spin rate,” Ian said. “There’s a lot of new technology that’s available. Now you know the metrics of the pitch and the stats that go with it. That’s the way baseball is going right now from a pitching side. It was cool to learn that stuff and now we’re able to bounce things back and forth off each other.”
For Ben, 2020 marks his first full season of professional baseball after spending last spring pitching for Division I Binghamton and earning America East Pitcher of the Year honors. He went 9-4 with 108 strikeouts and a 2.76 ERA in 88 innings. His 11.05 strikeouts per nine innings ranks as the highest average in the 30-year history of the America East.
In June, he was drafted in the 13th round by the Texas Rangers and went on to pitch for the Arizona League Rangers, a Rookie level affiliate of the Rangers, before getting called up to play for the Spokane Indians, a Class A short-season affiliate of the Rangers.
“The hitters knew the zone a little bit better in the minors,” Ben said. “These guys aren’t going to be swinging at pitches that aren’t in the zone. The America East Conference prepared me very well for this. There were some talented players in the league.”
Ben, listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, is hoping to land a spot on the Hickory Crawdads, the Rangers’ low A team in the South Atlantic League. A more ambitious route has Ben finishing the season playing for the Rangers’ Class A-Advanced affiliate, the Down East Wood Ducks in the Carolina League. Both teams are based in North Carolina.
“I think the biggest thing for me is staying healthy, no matter what level I end up at,” Ben said. “Obviously, I want to compete for the first spot in the single A rotation, which I think I’ll have a chance to do in spring training, so spending the whole year there would be great.”
The offseason for the pair has been a reunion of sorts, with both working out daily at All Stars Academy, under the watchful eye of Leo Corvino. A fitness guru, Corvino has worked with the Anderson twins for the past 10 years.
“Ben has always been in school during the winter months, so it was definitely much easier this year to work out,” said Ian, who has pitched professionally since shortly after his high school graduation. “Having someone to throw with is one of the hardest things around here. The good thing is that there are more pros around here now, which is great. It’s definitely been more productive this winter. We’ve been working on our conditioning and just getting stronger. We both follow the arm-care programs that our teams have laid out for us. It’s worked out really well.”
Ben has been active outside of the area of late, spending two weeks in Surprise last month to work out with about 40 other pitchers. He said he left the Rangers’ spring training complex confident that he’ll be ready to compete for mound time this season.
“The biggest thing for me this year will be attacking the strike zone,” Ben said. “You can’t get anyone out if you’re not throwing the ball in the right place. It’s been a huge focus of the Rangers’ pitching department. I just want to show the organization and show people what I’m capable of on the mound. I just want to be competitive every time I get out there.”
The players’ parents will see both compete over the February break. Bob and Karen will fly into Phoenix first to witness Ben’s first professional camp in Surprise before heading to Florida to be with Ian.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Bob said. “It will be the first time we get to see Ben pitch as a professional. Ian is knocking on the door of fulfilling his dream and we are looking forward to watching him compete for a spot in big league camp. We are both very proud of them.”