Image credit: Andrew Painter (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
Impact talent is on the horizon for the Phillies thanks to a dynamic trio of fire-balling pitching prospects. Righthanders Andrew Painter, Mick Abel and Griff McGarry, all Top 100 Prospects, provide illuminating promise for a Phillies pitching corps in dire need of reinforcements in the short and long term. Last week in Hartford, the potential of the three prospects was on display, as all three appeared for the Phillies Double-A affiliate over the holiday weekend. McGarry appeared in a relief role for two innings on Friday, while Painter and Abel started on Saturday and Sunday. Each pitcher displayed a powerful arsenal deep with quality offerings, showing a glimpse of what may soon be headed to Philadelphia.
McGarry, a tantalizing talent out of Virginia whose amateur days were heavy on stuff and promise but light on command and production, was the first of the trio to appear in the series. After exiting his previous start due to a blister issue, the Phillies made a concerted effort to limit McGarry’s innings by transitioning him to a relief role for the remainder of the season. Promoted to Triple-A at the beginning of the week, his Sept. 2 relief appearance may prove to be his last at the Double-A level. With lingering rumors about McGarry potentially joining the Phillies bullpen going from faint whispers to loud shouts over the weekend, his promotion to Triple-A has done nothing but fuel speculation.
McGarry came on in the third inning following a two-inning outing from lefthander Taylor Lehman. He started off his day with an automatic ball due to a pitch clock violation against Hartford leadoff man Hunter Stovall. McGarry worked back into a 2-2 count with a well-placed sweeper and a 98 mph fastball that was hit foul. He missed on consecutive pitches, first with a curveball and then a fastball at 97 mph, to put Stovall on first base. The next batter he faced was highly regarded Rockies outfield prospect Zac Veen. McGarry engaged in a nine-pitch battle with Veen before sitting him down on an elevated fastball to the outer half of the plate that Veen whiffed on. McGarry sat down the next two batters on a line out and ground out to get out of the inning unscathed.
In his second and final frame, McGarry was excellent, needing only 12 pitches to end the inning. He started off Grant Lavigne with a steady diet of mid-to-upper-90s heaters before freezing him with a slider over the heart of the plate. McGarry followed a similar script against the following batter, Brenton Doyle, as he started him off with three straight fastballs before freezing Doyle with another slider over the middle of the plate. The final batter of the inning was Daniel Montano, who McGarry blew away with three consecutive 97 mph fastballs to strike out the side.
With a deep arsenal of pitches, power and movement, McGarry could get outs in the major leagues right now. On this day he sat 95-97 mph on his fastball, mixing in a low-80s sweeping slider, a curveball and a mid-to-high-80s cutter. With a potential promotion looming, we may not have to wait that long to see how it looks at the highest level. Command issues still plague McGarry, but outside of a few uncompetitive pitches, McGarry was locked in for this two-inning stint.
On Saturday night the de-facto headliner of the weekend, Andrew Painter, took the mound. The 2021 first-round pick from the famed Calvary Christian program in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been historically good over 94.2 innings in 2022, posting a 5-1 record with a 1.24 ERA, a .169 opponent batting average and a 32.1% strikeout-to-walk rate. Rarely do prep pitchers make it to Double-A a year out of the draft, let alone dominate at arguably the most talent-laden level of the minors. Painter, however, is the rare exception as throughout the season his stock and prestige have continued to rise. In this start Painter showed his full arsenal. Beyond just the velocity and movement, he showed the ability to execute from pitch to pitch at a level typically reserved for older prospects.
Painter’s first inning was his most tumultuous frame of the day, as he allowed a leadoff double to Stovall. He got ahead 0-2 on Stovall before the Rockies infielder threw his barrel on a 98 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate, shooting it down the right field line. Painter sat down the following batter, Veen, on three pitches, all fastballs between 98-99 mph. The third batter of the inning, Kyle Datres, hit a ground ball between the third base and shortstop hole that slipped by the diving shortstop, driving in a hustling Stovall from second base. Painter got the next batter, Lavigne, to ground out to second base before he struck out Aaron Schunk on a 98 mph fastball to escape the inning.
Over the next two innings Painter pitched primarily to contact, living all over the zone and challenging hitters to swing at a steady diet of fastballs and sliders. He allowed three singles over the second and third but none of the balls was especially well hit. In the fourth inning, Painter seemed to lock in, overwhelming Lavigne and Schunk with curveballs, changeups and sliders, striking out each on a total of seven pitches. He then generated a groundball out off the bat of Montano to set down the side in order on 10 pitches.
In the fifth, Painter continued to be efficient, getting out of the frame on 16 pitches despite allowing a single. He was still holding his velocity, sitting 95-98 mph and finding his top-of-the-scale velocity when he reached back for it. In the sixth, Painter set down the side in order, first getting Veen to fly out to end a seven-pitch battle. He needed just nine pitches to strike out the following two batters, first freezing Datres with a curveball in a 1-2 count before getting Lavigne swinging on a slider in a 2-2 count.
In Painter’s seventh and final inning, he sat down the first two batters he faced before allowing back-to-back singles to Doyle and Willie MacIver. He got Isaac Collins to line out to end the inning and end the Hartford threat in the seventh.
Overall, Painter consistently attacked the zone, landing 75% of his pitches for strikes and forcing hitters to swing. He drove 11 ground balls on the day, displaying his ability to keep the ball on the ground and limit hard contact despite living around the zone. He mixed up his sequencing, showing his high-90s fastball and low-to-mid-80s slider early before adding in the curveball and changeup with greater frequency as the start rolled along. The combination of power, movement, strike-throwing and pitchability is an extremely rare combination, and it left this writer thinking he had just watched the best pitching prospect he had seen all season.
In the series finale, 2020 first-rounder and Top 100 Prospect Mick Abel got the start in the Sunday matinee. The athletic righthander didn’t disappoint, showcasing his powerful three-pitch mix over a scoreless five-inning appearance. Like his teammate Painter, Abel was considered one of the top high school pitching prospects in his draft class, and like Painter he’s moved fairly rapidly up the Phillies minor league ladder.
Abel came out of the gates pumping 98 mph and going right after the top of the Yard Goats order. He sat down the first two batters via strikeout before getting Lavigne to pop out to third. He needed only 13 pitches to get through the frame, generating four swinging strikes—two against his fastball and one each against his slider and changeup. He threw one slider in the inning, a nasty 85 mph sweeper that broke heavily to his glove side. Among the three Phillies prospects discussed in this article, Able had the loudest opening inning.
He started the second off with a walk before striking out the next three batters he faced. He used a steady diet of fastballs at 95-98 mph, mixing in his slider in two-strike counts against both lefthanded and righthanded batters.
In the third he continued more of his dominance, getting ahead of Tyler Hill early before getting a line out to center fielder Johan Rojas. He then struck out Julio Carreras on three pitches, all swinging strikes. Abel worked backwards to the Rockies infielder, starting Carreras off with a slider before following it up with a pair of well-placed fastballs to both sides of the plate.
The following batter, Stovall, tracked a slider in a 1-1 count, catching the ball out in front and driving the pitch deep to left field. Despite a diving effort, Ethan Wilson was unable to make a play on the ball. Abel proceeded to strike out Montano on three pitches, all fastballs, as Montano swung at all three, missing the first and third while fouling off the second.
The fourth inning was an efficient one for Abel. He set down the side on eight pitches despite walking the second batter of the inning, facing the minimum due to a first pitch slider against Doyle that induced an inning-ending double play.
The fifth proved to be Abel’s final inning of work. He walked the leadoff man, Veen, before inducing a line out off the bat of Yard Goats catcher Daniel Cope. Veen was caught trying to steal second base, and Abel worked back from a 2-1 count against Cope to freeze him with a 96 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate for the strikeout.
Abel showed arguably the best stuff of the three, with a fastball at 95-99 mph with spin rates in the 2,500-2,600 rpm range and a flat vertical approach angle making it hard for hitters to get on plane and on time consistently. His slider has less sweep than Painter’s or McGarry’s but was harder by nearly 2-3 mph. He threw just four changeups on the day but the pitch generated a pop out, two whiffs and a called strike. While Abel’s command is not on par with Painter, his three-pitch mix has just as much upside as he hones his craft in the coming years. Abel will flash elements of advanced pitchability and above-average command, but it’s a matter of finding the consistency he showed in this outing on a start-by-start basis. Overall, it’s an impressive arsenal and athlete who could form a formidable tandem with Painter in the coming years.