The Milwaukee Brewers have reportedly dipped into the independent baseball leagues to sign a pitcher for the second time in a week, once again purchasing a player out of the American Association. According to a press release from the league, David Stearns and company have inked right-handed pitcher Anthony Bender from the Sioux City Explorers.
Bender, now 24, displayed a big arm at JUCO Santa Rosa Junior College but injuries limited him to just 16.1 innings during his sophomore season. He still showed enough to entice the Kansas City Royals to select him in the 20th round of the 2016 MLB Draft and offer him an over-slot $127,500 bonus in order to convince him to skip out on his commitment to Cal-State Northridge.
Bender prevented runs well during his three years in the minors as a swingman for the Royals, never posting an earned run average above 4.00 in a single season. In 63 games (23 starts) and 203.1 innings, he logged a 3.63 ERA across rookie ball, Class A, and the Advanced-A levels. He punched out nearly a batter per inning while limiting walks below 2.6 BB/9 in the two lower levels, but those abilities eroded during his first full season at the Class A-Advanced level. Bender recorded a sturdy 3.57 ERA in 93.1 innings for Wilmington of the Carolina League in 2018, but did so with less than encouraging marks of 5.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. He was released by the Royals during Spring Training before the start of the 2019 season.
Bender hooked on with Sioux City before the start of the American Association season and appeared in two games for the Explorers, logging 3.2 scoreless frames. He struck out three batters and walked one.
Because of his time missed with injury and the fact that he was a two-way player in college, Bender was considered a raw talent when he was drafted by the Royals. A project player with possible high-upside potential based on his arm speed, he would regularly hit 95 MPH in college with reports of even greater readings at times along with a fringey and still-developing slider. He also drew praise for his outstanding makeup from his college coaches and Royals’ scouts at the time he was selected.
The case often times with these types of players is that they can use their overpowering stuff to blow away lower-level hitters without having to command the baseball very well, but can struggle against more advanced hitters until they learn to hit their spots within the strike zone with regularity. Milwaukee’s minor league coaches will surely try to help Anthony Bender find consistency inside the strike zone, hopefully assisting him as he learns to harness his high-octane stuff.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference