Editor’s note: Of the past 20 Baseball America Minor League Players of the Year, just four have been pitchers: Josh Beckett (2001), Jeff Francis (2004), Jeremy Hellickson (2010) and Blake Snell (2015). Over the past 20 years, minor league pitchers’ workloads have been scaled back to such an extent that it has become virtually impossible for a pitcher to overcome the volume advantage offered by a top position player.
That’s why Baseball America is introducing a Minor League Pitcher of the Year award this season to acknowledge the best season by a pitching prospect.
When the 2022 season began, righthander Andrew Painter was already viewed as one of the Phillies’ best pitching prospects. But realistically, he was seen as years away from being able to contribute in Philadelphia.
After all, he was a 19-year-old with just six Florida Complex League innings to his name.
His 2022 season has upended those expectations. After a truly remarkable season, Painter ends the year as Baseball America’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and one who is much closer to MLB than could have been imagined when the season began.
With even the most talented high school pitchers, it usually takes at least four or five years for them to make the adjustment from amateur ball to being ready to help a big league club. Generally, they are on a solid development plan if they can successfully navigate one level per year. Injuries will often slow that climb by a year or two as well.
White Sox ace Dylan Cease didn’t reach the majors until his sixth pro season. His dominating 2022 season is his ninth in pro ball. Braves lefthander Max Fried reached the majors in his sixth pro season and didn’t earn a spot in the rotation until his eighth season.
Painter, the Phillies’ 2021 first-round pick, is on a much faster track. That’s because the lower levels of the minors proved unchallenging. Coming into the year, Painter could have been expected to head to Low-A Clearwater to acclimate himself to the hefty demands of a full pro season.
Acclimation soon turned into domination.
In nine starts with Clearwater, Painter held opponents to a .130 average. In an April start against Tampa, Painter struck out 14 of the 16 batters he faced. With a fastball that touched 100 mph and a slider that was just as good as his fastball, Painter struck out 46% of Low-A hitters he faced.
By June, Painter had earned a promotion to High-A Jersey Shore. It was a new level, but it presented the same problem—the level seemed beneath his abilities. He posted a 0.98 ERA in eight starts and didn’t allow a run in six of his eight outings.
In August the Phillies promoted Painter to Double-A Reading. In the Eastern League he finally gave up more than three earned runs in an outing for the first and only time in his pro career. But overall he was just as impressive against Double-A hitters who were often five years older than him. With Reading, Painter’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was 37-to-2.
In half of Painter’s 22 starts this season he did not allow a run. In 15 of his 22 starts, he allowed zero or one walk. Between his three stops, he recorded a 1.56 ERA with 155 strikeouts, 25 walks and an opponent average of .181 in 103.2 innings. He struck out 38.7% of hitters all year.
Beyond just the impressive numbers, Painter displays dominant characteristics on par with some of the game’s best pitchers. Armed with a four-pitch arsenal, his fastball sits 96-98 mph with plus-plus induced vertical break. He features a sweepy low-80s slider as his primary secondary pitch. It averages nearly a foot of horizontal break. His high-70s curveball and upper-80s changeup provide change-of-pace offerings to play off of his fearsome one-two punch. It’s a powerful and refined pitch mix rare among even the best teenage pitchers.
Painter’s ability to command his powerful repertoire is exceptional and sets him apart. The strike rates on all of Painter’s pitches were well above-average, and his ability to execute from pitch to pitch allowed him to work efficiently and effectively deep into starts.
This was often due to his ability to pound the zone and drive weak contact. His ability to challenge hitters to swing generated a good mix of called strikes and whiffs throughout each start.
Teenagers simply don’t dominate like this. In addition to Painter, the list of sub-2.00 ERAs from 19-and-under pitchers with at least 100 innings in a minor league season includes the likes of Cole Hamels (1.34 ERA in 2003), Madison Bumgarner (1.46 ERA in 2008) and Jose Fernandez (1.75 ERA in 2012).
It was a truly masterful season for the Phillies prodigious righthander, and one that has him entering 2023 as a potential ace who is now not all that far from being ready to pitch at Citizens Bank Park.