Royals select former Canes pitcher Anderson in MLB draft

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Elliott Anderson is in the midst of the most exciting time in his life, thus far.

Between helping Auburn win the Atlanta Regional and hoping to assist during this weekend's Super Regionals in North Carolina, the Cartersville High graduate earned a chance to become a professional baseball player.

With the second pick of the 23rd round and 679th selection overall, the Kansas City Royals chose Anderson on the final day of the MLB draft Wednesday.

"I was really excited," Anderson said. "I didn't really know what to feel. It was a dream come true. I just called my mom and let her know. I've had a bunch of family reach out to me. It's an awesome feeling."

Anderson said he received a phone call from the Royals area scout prior to the selection. The junior left-handed pitcher enjoyed getting to celebrate the moment with his teammates, four others of whom were also tabbed during the three-day event.

"It's great to be able to spend time with your teammates," Anderson said. "We had a few guys from Auburn get drafted. We're supporting each other all the way. We're all just happy for each other, and being able to be with your teammates is a great feeling."

With Auburn's season continuing Saturday through possibly Monday against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Anderson is keeping his focus on the task at hand. After the Tigers came up just short at the final hurdle to reach the College World Series last year, he said the team has all of its attention on reaching Omaha.

"We're excited but we're playing with a chip on our shoulders," Anderson said. "... We've all got a common goal we're focusing on and trying to get it done."

Due to the impending best-of-three series against No. 14 seed UNC, Anderson wouldn't say for sure whether he planned to sign or return to Auburn for his senior year. However, his comments seemed to indicate he was leaning towards turning pro.

"It's always been a dream of mine to play pro baseball and getting my name called is a great feeling," Anderson said. "... You see these guys on TV and you want to play professional baseball. That's something I've wanted to do; that's something I've dreamed of doing as a little kid.

"I love the opportunity to go play professional baseball and thank you to the club that picked me. I don't really know what would influence me, but that's a dream of mine. I want to play professional baseball, and I'm finally getting the opportunity to play at the next level. It's just a great feeling."

Despite being a Perfect Game All-American selection at Cartersville, Anderson went undrafted out of high school. In just a few years under the tutelage of pitching guru Butch Thompson, he's turned into a mid-round draftee of the 2015 World Series champions.

So far this season, Anderson has pitched to a 6-2 record, making him 12-2 overall in his time with the Tigers. His 4.42 ERA this season is almost exactly in line with his career 4.44 ERA. He has struck out 104 batters in 101 1/3 innings over his three years, while filling multiple roles.

"Out of high school, I wasn't really a draft prospect at all," Anderson said. "Coming to Auburn helped me grow mentally and physically. Personally, it's just a great feeling. I couldn't have done it without the people who supported me through this — coaches and other players I've played with."

Following his selection, Anderson joins a growing list of former Canes taken in the MLB draft. In just the past decade, Cartersville has seen the likes of Donavan Tate, Sam Howard, Connor Justus, Anthony Seigler and Devin Warner — to name a few — get drafted.

Being able to join the pantheon of former Bartow County athletes succeeding collegiately and professionally means a lot to Anderson.

"It's special," he said. "I think it says a lot for the community. It's a surreal feeling. ... Being able to surround myself with people — whether it's people in Cartersville or people here at Auburn — it's really helped me grow."

One of the coaches that helped Anderson along the way, current Cartersville head coach Kyle Tucker, spoke about how excited everyone in and around the program is for the former Daily Tribune News player of the year.

"Everybody's just happy for him," said Tucker, who was an assistant coach during Anderson's time with the Canes. "He's a great person with a great attitude. For us, obviously, he was tremendous as a pitcher but also as a position player. He did everything and was part of some successful teams. He was a great leader through his words, yes, but more so his actions. He's one of the best leaders I've ever been around. ...

"He's just a guy in Cartersville baseball lore who had a great career on the field, but everyone knows him as a great person. Not that coaches have favorites, but we loved him to death because of his attitude and work ethic that were second to none."

While Anderson's ultimate decision about his future remains to be seen, a few coincidences from Tucker's conversation regarding the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder might point to a future in the Royals organization.

For one thing, Tucker recalled driving past Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, which is visible from Interstate 70, with some friends on the way to the College World Series several years ago. Later in the discussion, a train passed by Tucker, who was speaking on the phone in downtown Cartersville. The owner of the train just so happened to be Kansas City Southern. 

"Obviously, I have no idea what he'll do," Tucker said. "I'm sure he will wait until Auburn's season is over, which hopefully for them is another two or three weeks. Once it's done, I'm sure he'll sit down and make a decision about what he wants to do.

"There's guys that go in the 23rd round and take it, and then there's guys who come back to college and get picked in the top four or five rounds. That's something we'll all follow here over the next few weeks."

That will be the only decision those close to the Canes will need to keep track of after Cartersville's 2019 senior class didn't see any of its talented players selected. Right-hander Mason Barnett, an Auburn signee, and outfielder Preston Welchel, a South Alabama signee, seemed the most likely to be chosen, but both clearly were fully committed to playing collegiately.

While they would have certainly enjoyed the honor of being drafted, each seemed destined to turn down the offer and head across the state line for college — just as Warner, who followed in Anderson's footsteps to Auburn, did last year after his 30th-round selection in 2018.

"We didn't really have anybody, I don't think, that was in any kind of position like Anthony was a year ago, where they're going to be a top-round pick," Tucker said, referencing Seigler, who was taken in the first round last year. "I don't think anybody was waffling on whether to go pro or go to college. You love to get drafted; you would love to have somebody believe in you. ... But sometimes if you're pretty committed to a college team you can go undrafted."

Despite going undrafted, Barnett, Welchel and other members of Cartersville's Class of 2019 will hope to be hearing their name called in the next few years — just as Anderson did.

"It doesn't matter what level you go to," Tucker said. "If you can play, they'll find you. It will be really exciting to keep up with these guys and their careers. ... We have a lot of guys to keep up with, and that's fun. You hate to lose them, because you know you're losing good players, but that's part of coaching high school baseball."

The exciting thing, though, is that these players are moving on to the next level. And given the tradition of the Canes, where former draft picks such as Howard and Justus remain close to the program, they'll never completely leave.

Anderson becomes the latest Cartersville product to earn this chance. It would have been nice to completely enjoy the moment of being drafted without any other distractions. But even still, all it does is add to a week that's quickly becoming the best he's ever experienced.

"I know he's thrilled to death," Tucker said. "He's having a big week down there at Auburn. He was the winning pitcher in the first game of the regional. They have a chance with two more wins to go to Omaha, and he got drafted [Wednesday]. It would be awesome if they could get that done this weekend for him, but even if they don't, I know he's very, very happy right now."

That he is.

"I'm on cloud nine, right now," Anderson said. "Getting my name called [Wednesday] and leaving for a Super Regional [Thursday]. It's a great feeling. We have the opportunity to make history here. I don't know how to put it into words, being able to get drafted, and then hopefully win a Super Regional and head to Omaha."