With Anderson optioned, top prospect gets extended look

March 15th, 2023

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- has been the talk of Braves camp, and he will continue to be in the spotlight as he and fellow prospect battle to begin the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter.

The Braves provided some clarity on the rotation battle when and were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday afternoon. The two seemed to be the most logical candidates for the fifth spot, especially after Michael Soroka came to Spring Training with a right hamstring strain.

But while Anderson and Elder have been underwhelming over the past couple of weeks, Shuster and Dodd have been lights-out. As with Huascar Ynoa in 2019, the Braves are leaning toward beginning the season with a hot hand.

Shuster is Atlanta's top prospect per MLB Pipeline, and he has shown his potential while allowing just one run and recording nine strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings this spring. That lone run came courtesy of Bryan Reynolds' homer that accounted for the only hit the 24-year-old left-hander allowed over 3 2/3 innings against what was essentially the Pirates’ Opening Day lineup on Sunday.

Dodd, who ranks as Atlanta’s No. 10 prospect, has allowed five hits and recorded 11 strikeouts over 8 1/3 innings thus far. The southpaw tallied four scoreless innings against a split-squad Orioles team on Monday.

The top prospects' strong outings caused the Braves to alter their original pitching plans for the week. They had planned to have Shuster follow Anderson in Friday’s game against the Red Sox. But because Shuster might have been facing Minor Leaguers by the time he entered, the club determined it was best to have him start the game instead.

With starters now stretched out to pitch into the fourth and fifth innings, there are fewer opportunities for rotation candidates to compile necessary innings in Grapefruit League games. So the Braves decided it was best to give the prospects the chance to prove their recent success hasn’t been a fluke.

Anderson came to camp looking to prove things might be different than they were last year, when he posted a 5.00 ERA through 22 starts and then was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett in August. But command has continued to be an issue this spring, as he has issued eight walks over 7 1/3 innings. 

Anderson’s inability to consistently throw strikes has led opponents to regularly allow his changeup to drift out of the strike zone. The 24-year-old hurler is attempting to add a slider to his repertoire to give him a horizontal weapon against right-handed hitters. But that pitch still seems to be in the development process.

The Braves remain optimistic Anderson will get back to where he was during the 2020 and ’21 seasons. Given his 1.26 ERA in eight career postseason starts, his recent struggles are even more baffling.

Elder helped Atlanta win the National League East with some key spot starts last year, and he could continue to be a back-of-the-rotation asset over the next few years. But after he issued three walks in just four innings against the Phillies on Tuesday, the Braves opted to have him make his final preseason preparations in Minor League camp.

The Braves can recall Anderson or Elder if they are needed before the end of camp. But it now looks like Shuster or Dodd will sit in the rotation’s fifth spot to begin the season.