On June 3, four days before arriving in State College, Spikes pitcher Will Anderson sat in the press box at New Hampshire’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium as a spectator.
Anderson used a couple days off to see his older brother pitch for the Double-A Fisher Cats. It was his first chance to see John Anderson take the mound in person during his six-year professional career in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization, and the older brother didn’t disappoint.
John struck out four in three scoreless innings of relief against the Bowie Baysox and told Will afterward, “Hey kid, that’s how you pitch right there.”
“He thought that was pretty funny,” said John, a left-hander.
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The older brother’s strong outing rekindled the sibling rivalry that still drives the younger brother heading into the start of his second professional season. Will has emerged as the Spikes’ ace and one of the top pitchers in the New York-Penn League. Going into his start Saturday night, the right-hander from Pleasanton, Calif., had a 5-2 record and 2.31 ERA — the third-lowest mark in the league. He was also one of four Spikes to earn a spot in the league’s All-Star Game.
Anderson, who has a fastball in the low 90s, has used his control to keep hitters off balance. He’s walked just nine batters and allowed one home run in 58 1/3 innings.
But he also etched his name in the Spikes’ record book with his 10-strikeout performance in a win over Williamsport in late June.
His All-Star campaign comes one year after finishing with a 4.71 ERA in his first pro season at rookie-level Johnson City. This season, Anderson said he knew how to prepare better mentally and has a better grasp of what to throw in certain counts to hitters who will pounce on mistakes.
“In college you can get away with a lot more stuff than you can here,” Anderson said. “The hitters are a lot better. (In) college maybe you only have a couple hitters on a team that are actually good and here it seems just about 1 through 9, everybody’s hitting pretty solid.”
Anderson started to focus on his pitching career at Foothill High School, choosing to follow in his brother’s footsteps on the mound.
He got pitching lessons, and he learned from John when he was home.
Once, when the brothers went to the high school field, Will wanted to pitch to John. It had been a few years since the older brother hit, but he stepped to the plate to see what his younger brother had.
“He wanted somebody to face him and he wanted to get my input on how he was pitching,” John said. “He left a pitch up and I hit a home run probably about 450 feet off of him. That was pretty funny.”
Will didn’t see the humor in the situation.
“I think I flipped my bat and I jogged around the bases and I was hooting and hollering at him,” John said. “He wasn’t too happy about that.”
It was another moment of friendly competition between the brothers that started with wiffle ball home run derbies in the front yard during their childhood. John was always a step ahead due to the four-year age gap separating them, but he said Will has always been the better athlete.
By his senior year at Foothill, Will was a pro prospect. He went 10-2 with a 2.17 ERA and was drafted in the 38th round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.
After two years at Fresno State and a year at Cal State Monterey Bay, the St. Louis Cardinals took him in the 26th round in 2013 and assigned him to Rookie-Level Johnson City, where he made nine starts.
This season, he arrived in State College knowing what to expect. In his third start, he baffled Williamsport, allowing just three hits and recording a franchise-record 10 strikeouts in seven shutout innings.
His older brother was on a bus to Reading listening to the radio and following the action online.
“It was pretty spectacular because you wouldn’t really profile him as a strikeout pitcher,” John said. “He’s more of a ground ball guy, likes to put the ball in play and to see him succeed like that is pretty special. He’s come a long way. I’m really proud of him. He’s going to do great in the future.”
Will Anderson’s assessment of his pitching style matches up with his brother’s description.
Will grew up an Oakland Athletics fan and said he always crafted his pitching after Tim Hudson, who starred for Oakland from 1999-2004 and has thrived as a ground ball pitcher.
Though Will couldn’t model his pitching after his left-handed brother, he’s looked up to him from a young age.
John has always pushed him to be better just as he did with Will watching him pitch for New Hampshire in June.
“He’s a big influence for me and it kind of gave me that spark seeing him out there throwing,” Will said. “If he’s able to do that, why am I not able to do that?”