July 12, 2021
The Phillies surprised many in the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft when they selected right-handed prep pitcher Andrew Painter with the 13th overall pick, a year after taking fellow high school hurler Mick Abel in the 2020 draft.
The good news is, the Phillies could have the top of their 2025 rotation in place. The bad news is, the miss rate on high school pitchers, especially righties, is among the highest of any category. And to make matters worse, the Phillies overall miss rate in the first round recently has been pretty poor in its own right, with Aaron Nola being so far the most accomplished of their first-round picks over the last decade, almost all of which have come in the top half of the draft.
But, if the club can develop Painter alongside Abel, they could have a potent 1-2 punch for years to come. That, however, is easier said than done.
Still, the Phillies should have a good foundation in Painter, a guy they heavily scouted throughout his career at Calvary Christian High School in South Florida — not to mention a guy they have a little inside info on due to the fact that he was teammates with Joe Girardi's son Dante at Calvary Christian. And through that entire process, they came away thinking the 6-foot-7 Painter was their best option, drafting him several spots higher than when he was projected to go.
It shouldn't surprise you at all that this writer has never seen Painter throw in person — unfortunately I don't get to escape down to Fort Lauderdale as often as I'd like — so we're going to rely on what the experts (and the film) have to say about the young pitcher, because the numbers speak for themselves: in 47 innings as a senior, Painter went 6-1 with a 0.38 ERA and 93 strikeouts.
Let's go to the tape to see what Painter looks like on the mound:
Andrew Painter (FL) remains the #1 pitcher in the country in the updated 2021 rankings. This sequence of pitches from #PGNational shows why! Be sure to wait for that last change up! 👀— Perfect Game USA (@PerfectGameUSA) September 18, 2020
FB up to 97 🔥🔥🔥
Full list https://t.co/Le4jOjPMAs pic.twitter.com/5Iho0U9fZ5
Andrew Painter looked dominant today. 93-95 T96 on FB, 2,200-2,400 RPM; 83-85 CH with 1,700-1,850 RPM; CB 76-78 with 2,400-2,540 RPM; and SL 81-82 2,550-2,600 RPM. Everything was working great for him. pic.twitter.com/Fvmx5dEmna— Tyler Jennings (@TylerJennings24) June 19, 2020
It's somewhat difficult to tell when not seeing it in person, so when it comes to analyzing Painter's game, let's start with a few scouting reports, with the first coming from Fangraphs:
Painter is a prototypical prep arm with an XXL frame, premium arm strength, and nascent feel for spin, and like many high schoolers of this ilk, he has a mid-rotation shot if everything comes together. Painter's fastball velocity climbed throughout the 2020 summer, and he wrapped sitting 94-97 during his last abbreviated showcase outing. He has three other pitches: a mid-80s changeup, a mid-70s curveball, and a mid-80s slider that has cuttery, horizontal action right now, but for which Painter has good arm-side feel. You could point to Tyler Kolek and argue there's some elevated risk in taking a kid this large in the first round, but his stuff belongs in the middle third of day one. [fangraphs.com]
As you can see there, Fangraphs agrees with the general sentiment that taking Painter in the first half of the first round might've been a bit of a risk, but the scouting report over at MLB.com, who had him as the 18th-ranked prospect ahead of the draft, was more optimistic about the 18-year-old pitcher.
There are high school pitchers who garner a lot of attention because of huge raw stuff, and there are prep arms who have an advanced feel for pitching. When the two come together in one prospect, there’s the chance for something special. Painter showed off that exciting combination of raw stuff and feel for pitching at a number of showcase events over the summer to establish himself as one of the best high school pitchers in the 2021 Draft class. He did nothing to dampen those expectations, striking out 54 percent of the batters he faced during his senior year en route to Gatorade state high school player of the year honors.
Painter delivers a legitimate four-pitch mix from a 6-foot-6 frame and has a very advanced feel for his gameplan on the mound. He typically sits in the 93-95 mph range and touches 96 with his fastball. He utilizes both a two- and four-seamer and likes to elevate to get swings and misses up in the zone. He throws both a 12-to-6 type curveball in the upper 70s and a mid-80s slider, and he flashed a potentially plus changeup over the summer.
Despite his size, Painter is very athletic on the mound and repeats his delivery extremely well, throwing all four pitches for strikes with a chance he’ll have plus control and command in the future. And while he’s already strong, there’s projection in his frame, and he could throw harder as he matures. Committed to Florida, Painter should be one of the first high school pitchers to come off the board in July. [mlb.com]
Following the selection, former Phillie and Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez had high praise for Painter, comparing him to his former teammate Mark Prior.
So, what did the Phillies scouts see in Painter that they liked? According to head of amateur scouting Brian Barber, a lot of the same things that MLB.com saw in the above scouting report, including his size, his command and variety of pitches, and what they call his "feel" for the game. Here's more from NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, who notes just how interested the Phillies have been in this young pitcher for at least the last year:
Phillies scouts were in attendance every time Painter took the mound over the last 12 months. Barber personally scouted seven of his starts.
"He's a large human being, you notice that immediately," Barber said. "Then you start digging into the baseball attributes. The delivery is an excellent starting point. The arm action works really well. And he just has really good stuff.
"The very first time we saw him last summer, he was up to 97 mph. He has a curveball and a slider that both project to plus and a changeup that he has a really good feel for, for an 18-year-old.
"The icing on the cake was it was a guy that at that age had a feel for pitching and the ability to throw strikes. It was a complete package for us from Day 1."
High school pitchers, particularly right-handers, have traditionally represented the largest risk demographic in the draft. The Phillies have now gone that route two years in a row since Barber became scouting director. [nbcsports.com]
For Barber, this was his second draft at the helm, and for the second year in a row he decided to take that risk on a high school arm, perhaps trying to get as many rolls of the dice as possible in the hopes that one will pan out. Here's more from The Inquirer's Matt Breen:
Painter and Abel are years away from the majors, but the Phillies allowed themselves to envision having a rotation headed by the first-round picks.
“That was brought up,” Barber said. “But it’s also not why we took Andrew. They’re two separate conversations to be had there. We evaluated Andrew by himself and then when you start talking about the excitement and upside of getting Mick last year and the opportunity to add Andrew to that, and those guys rise up through the minor leagues together and hopefully one day front your rotation in Philadelphia, yeah, that gets us excited.”
This was the eighth straight year the Phillies drafted No. 16 or better. Their last seven first-round picks have combined for 25.2 Wins Above Replacement with the Phillies, but 91% of that was totaled by 2014 first-rounder Aaron Nola.
The Phillies have picked near the top of the draft for nearly a decade, but have not yet gotten rich from it. There is still hope as Bryson Stott (2019) and Abel (2020) have impressed in the minor leagues. Stott, 23, is hitting .258 this season with an .833 OPS between high-A Jersey Shore and double-A Reading. He represented the Phillies on Sunday in Denver at the Futures Game. [inquirer.com]
That last paragraph is a sobering reminder that while every team is feeling good about their first-round selections on Monday, in a few years only some of them will be feeling the same way. And a few years after that, it may only be a handful that still think they made the right choice.
For the Phillies, the decision to take Painter could become a big what-if, especially if it turns out they reached for the wrong guy when there were other, more obvious options on the board. Here's more from Gabrielle Starr of That Ball's Outta Here...
2. Painter wasn’t projected to be drafted so high.
Prior to the actual draft, the mock drafts had Painter going much lower. FanGraphs predicted that Painter would go to the Cincinnati Reds at #35. Of course, their entire morning-of mock draft went out the window when the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t take Marcelo Mayer first overall.
Painter is the first HS pitcher from the Broward/Palm Beach area to be drafted in the first round since the Red Sox selected Triston Casas in 2018. [...]
4. The Phillies chose Painter over top prospect Khalil Watson
Khalil Watson was projected to be a top-ten or even top-five pick in Sunday’s draft, but he was still available when it was the Phillies turn to pick at thirteen. Watson, a shortstop from Wake Forest, wasn’t picked until the Marlins took him 16th overall, a move being called the “steal” of the draft.
With the Phillies’ history of struggling to develop pitching prospects, Painter is a risk. But whether or not passing on Watson was a mistake won’t be determined until much further down the road. [thatballsouttahere.com]
It will still be several years before the Phillies (and their fans) know if they made the right decision on Sunday night, but for the most part it seems like they at least gave themselves the chance to set up a dominant rotation in the not-so-distant future. Of course, a lot can happen between now and then.
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