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April 13, 2017 at 9:00 AM

After initial stumble, Shaun Anderson settling into starting role

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Shaun Anderson started just one game for the University of Florida over his collegiate career, a number he has already blown past—relatively at least—as a professional, having made his fourth career start Tuesday evening. After that six-inning gem, he has allowed just one run on eight hits and two walks in 10 2/3 innings this season, striking out 13.

But based on his first two professional starts, one might have wondered if the Red Sox had the right idea selecting the right-hander in the third round of last June’s draft with the idea of making him a starter.

Anderson had starred as the Gators’ closer as a junior. He saved 13 games, posting a 0.97 ERA in 46 1/3 innings over 36 appearances. He struck out 60 and walked just 7 batters. That success and his five-pitch mix had MLB clubs thinking he had the stuff to start as a pro. An unexpectedly quick exit from the NCAA Tournament allowed Anderson to sign with the Red Sox on July 3, and he made his first start with the Lowell Spinners on July 30. It did not go well.

In that first start, he went 1 1/3 innings, giving up five hits and three runs while striking out two. In his next start, he again went just 1 1/3, this time giving up seven hits and six runs.

At that point, the Red Sox choose to shut him down for the season, the fatigue from the college season keeping him from pitching at his best.

“It was a long season, [and a] big transition from closing to starting. Obviously no excuses, but I feel good [now],” the 6-foot-4 righty said.

Anderson spent the season’s final month working with the trainers in Fort Myers and preparing for the Fall Instructional League.

Although Anderson has been pegged as a sort of transition project by some, he does have experience starting games. Although he started just one game in three years at Florida due largely to the Gators’ consistently strong pitching staff—left-handers A.J. Puk (sixth overall) and Scott Moss (fourth round) and right-handers Dane Dunning (29th overall) and Logan Shore (second round) were all drafted with Anderson last year—he made nine starts in 11 appearances in the Northwoods League the summer after his freshman year.

The following summer, he partook in the Cape Cod League, where he started in just three of his eight appearances, but began to show a pitch mix to scouts that appeared to be able to play as a starter at the next level. Overall, he posted a 4.09 regular season ERA with one save and 15 strikeouts in 22 innings against some of the best college competition in the country.

“I had a lot of fun on the Cape,” he said. “The coaches were great, it was a lot of exposure, and I met a good couple guys there too.”

Despite the false start to his career in Lowell, Anderson is now showing why many amateur scouts believed his repertoire was suited to a starting role. He features five pitches. When we spoke early in spring training, he was focusing foremost on his fastball and cutter. The former sat 90-93 mph in his three-inning stint. As our Director of Scouting, Ian Cundall, wrote after the outing, “[h]is cutter worked 87-88 mph with sharp, horizontal movement; the slider at 84-85 mph with longer, more vertical, break; and the changeup at 85 mph, though it was on the firm side. The cutter and slider showed the most potential, though he did get caught in between them a few times.”

For now, Anderson is trying to develop the pieces of his arsenal in stages.

“I’m trying right now to just dominate a couple [pitches],” he said. “I'm not throwing all five [regularly], but I might mix them in here and there. It's always in my back pocket.”

The chance to pull back and recuperate from 2016 appears to have done Anderson a world of good, his feeling during spring training portending his hot start to this year.

“I feel more powerful this year,” Anderson said. “I got some rest this offseason and definitely ramped things up this offseason and worked hard. I'm ready for everything to pay off and get some wins.”

Photo credit: Shaun Anderson by Kelly O'Connor

Matt Huegel joined SoxProspects.com in 2010 as a Staff Writer. This is his final story for the site and the 199th time his byline has appeared on the SoxProspects News Page.