The Boston Red Sox might have gotten a look into their future Thursday afternoon — or at least they should hope.
The Atlanta Braves swept their wild-card round series with the Cincinnati Reds after a sparkling performance from right-handed starter Ian Anderson. The 22-year-old was sensational in his playoff debut, going six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out nine and walking a pair.
It’s the latest milestone in what’s been a successful first year in the bigs for Anderson, who went 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA after making his debut in late August. He is very good and should be very good for a long time.
So, what does that have to do with the Red Sox? Anderson’s masterpiece and really his rise to the big leagues and potential to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for years underscores the importance of the 2021 MLB Draft for the Red Sox.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan recently reported the draft order will be based on 2020 record. For the Red Sox, that means they’ll have the No. 4 overall pick. It’s the first time Boston has had a top-five pick since 1967. This doesn’t happen very often, and for a team in the midst of a bit of a rebuild with a history of an inability to develop starting pitching, it’s a can’t-miss opportunity.
The Red Sox haven’t been able to develop a pitcher like Anderson, whom the Braves drafted with the No. 3 overall pick in 2016, literally in decades. It’s not like the Red Sox haven’t had somewhat similar chances, though. They’ve had five top-20 picks since 2010, and they used three of those on pitchers. One of those was Matt Barnes, the No. 19 pick in 2011 — a good choice. The jury is still out on Jay Groome, the No. 12 pick in 2016. The one that really hurts is Trey Ball, the seventh overall pick in 2013 (in their defense, 2013 wasn’t a great draft for pitching).
The 2021 draft, however, looks like it’s loaded with top-level pitching talent. Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker is the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. His teammate, Jack Leiter, could go as high as No. 2. LSU starter Jaden Hill is considered by many to be a top-10 pick. There are also the riskier prep arms available, too.
Developing pitching isn’t solely about the act of development once you have a player in your organization. You have to identify the talent, too. If Boston has pitchers like Leiter or Hill at the top of their board and they’re still around at No. 4, the Red Sox should jump at the opportunity to get their version of Anderson.
Coincidentally, Baseball America has the Red Sox taking an infielder in their most recent mock draft.
The Red Sox shouldn’t draft a pitcher with the No. 4 pick just to say they did, but if they have a chance to take a franchise-altering starter, Anderson’s success is another reminder of just how beneficial that can be.