By Ben Leonard
SAN FRANCISCO — With his shoulder-length blonde hair, deeply Florida-tanned skin and surfer-esque stoicism off the field, Giants’ top pitching prospect Shaun Anderson doesn’t scream “bulldog.”
In a 4-3 win against the Toronto Blue Jays in his major league debut, Anderson brought bite both on the mound and at the plate, giving up just two hits in five innings and slamming a double off the wall. Aramis Garcia, who caught for most of Anderson’s innings in Triple-A Sacramento and was behind the plate Wednesday, knew he was a “bulldog” on the mound, but didn’t think he had chops at the plate.
“In Richmond, we thought he was going to hurt himself because of how hard he was swinging out there,” said Garcia, who hit with Anderson in the offseason.
Anderson roped the double and later a single in his two at-bats, while holding Toronto (17-25) to just two earned runs and striking out five in the Giants’ (18-24) win. The Giants’ No. 4 overall prospect flashed a fastball that topped out around 95 mph that helped keep Toronto off the board. After allowing a run in the first, Anderson settled in, giving up just a run off a wild pitch and another unearned run following an error and another wild pitch.
“That’s a pretty nice debut, to get a couple hits to go with that,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He did his job. Nice job to give us a chance to win the game.”
As his swing has apparently evolved, Anderson has evolved into a starting pitcher from his college days at the University of Florida, where he was a reliever on an elite pitching staff. In his final season in Gainesville, Anderson gave up just six runs in just over 45 innings while tying a Florida record for saves in a season.
Five other Gators from that team were taken in the top 10 rounds of the 2016 MLB Draft, when Anderson was taken in the third round by the Boston Red Sox. Anderson found his way to the Giants’ organization in a July 2017 trade that sent infielder Eduardo Nunez to Boston.
Anderson excelled in the Giants’ farm system in 2018, posting a 3.69 ERA in 25 games, all but one of them starts. He continued to pitch well in Triple-A Sacramento this year, striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings to the tune of a 4.11 ERA—better than average for the hitter-friendly league.
But just a few months ago, the Giants weren’t sure if Anderson was a reliever or a starter. Right now, it’s pretty clear: Anderson is in the rotation, as Bochy said after the game.
Anderson boasts a biting changeup, curveball and a slider that he can throw two different ways—one that breaks down and one that breaks more like a traditional slider. He relied on his slider as a reliever at Florida and had to learn to use his fastball more in the transition to professional baseball.
Anderson showed some areas for improvement, including a curveball that got roped one of the two times he threw it, two wild pitches and a pickoff attempt to first that left a runner on third.
“That’s on me. That’s something I need to limit,” Anderson said of the wild pitches and the pickoff try. “Limiting those mistakes could have helped me win.”
Overall, Garcia thought Anderson did a good job staying composed in his debut, especially for a pitcher that tends to get pretty amped up for starts, Garcia said. He’s a starter with a reliever’s mentality, he added.
“He was pretty composed. It was good to see,” Garcia said. “He’s a bulldog out there. He’s not afraid. He’ll challenge anyone. He’s not afraid to go after guys.”
Having Garcia behind the dish put Anderson at ease.
“It was a good thing from a comfort standpoint. I didn’t shake a whole lot because I trust him and he trusts me,” Anderson said. “It gave me confidence out there on the mound.”
Anderson isn’t by any means a phenom or a highly-touted prospect—he is ranked No. 4 overall in the Giants’ farm system, and you won’t find him on any top-100 prospect lists.
He may not be the answer to the struggling Giants’ woes, but for now, he appears ready to make an impact at the big league level. Nothing seemed to phase him: not wild pitches, errors in the field behind him nor phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who went hitless.
“I tried to keep my expectations level. Just wanted to do what I could to keep the team in the game and get off on a good streak,” Anderson said. “I felt pretty calm for most of the game.”