CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mick Abel and Andrew Painter are promising right-handed pitching prospects from opposite coasts. Abel is a 20-year-old Oregonian, Painter an 18-year-old Floridian. They met late last year and quickly learned that they have plenty in common.
Both like to fish, for starters.
“I’m saltwater,” Painter said on Thursday at Carpenter Complex.
“I do a little bit more freshwater back home,” Abel said. “We like to play video games together. Go to BJ’s on Tuesdays, go get Pizookies.”
“It’s more the food and video games,” Painter added.
There is more to their budding relationship than that, of course, starting with the fact that the Phillies selected them out of high school in the first round in 2020 (Abel) and 2021 (Painter). Abel is the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 64 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, and Painter is the Phillies’ No. 3 prospect. They are projected to be top-of-the-rotation starters, which would be something for an organization that has been unsuccessful drafting and developing high school starting pitchers for a long time.
“All the time,” Abel said when asked how often he and Painter think about being a 1-2 punch atop the Phillies' rotation. “I think both of us, the goal is to reach the big leagues and have a nice long career. I think doing it together, it’s a dominant duo right there. We’ve still got time and we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but it’s definitely something I see.”
The talent and first-round pedigrees mean that Abel and Painter will be connected as long as they remain in the organization.
Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels lived this experience almost two decades ago. The Phillies selected them out of high school in the first round in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Hamels thrived in Philadelphia, helping the Phillies win the 2008 World Series. Floyd struggled, but later developed into a formidable starter with the White Sox. Former Phillies ace Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter shared that experience, too. The Blue Jays selected them out of high school in the first round in the mid-1990s. They spent their spring nights together on a nearby lake, fishing and talking through the pressures they felt living up to Toronto’s immense expectations.
It’s not easy being the next great thing.
“I think that’s something that made us close,” Carpenter said a few years ago. “Nobody really knew what was going on inside of us, because we had to portray ourselves as these confident, first-round guys that were going to take it over and that knew what we were doing. And we really weren’t. We were just trying to survive, trying to figure out what it looked like.”
But back then it was more "sink or swim" for prospects. They have a better support system today.
“I think externally it’s kind of easy to block out for both of us,” Abel said. “We both kind of had similar high school experiences with all the showcase stuff. We had high expectations then. Obviously, we’ve got them now. We kind of do that on our own, kind of privately. In terms of how we want to go through the organization together, I think that’s something we definitely share going forward. It’s obviously something we’re going to keep between ourselves.”
“I look up to Mick because he’s kind of gone through a little bit of that same path,” Painter said. “I ask him a bunch of questions and see what, you know, it’s going to be like moving forward. He gives me guidance and helps with everything.”
But it’s not only experiences they share. Abel is 6-foot-5. Painter is 6-foot-7. Both throw a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup.
“Same repertoire, but the difference is just mechanics,” Abel said. “Like, we load very differently when we’re going down the mound; biomechanically, there are many differences. Definitely from a grip perspective and how we can learn from each other, there’s still a lot left in the tank.”
“Yeah,” Painter said. “Yesterday we were talking changeup grips. I was asking, ‘Hey, how do you throw yours?’ Just messing around with some stuff.”
Abel threw 44 2/3 innings last season with Low-A Clearwater. He suffered a strained rotator cuff at one point, but he is healthy and back on schedule. Painter threw six innings in four starts with the Rookie-level FCL Phillies. They plan to throw many more innings in 2022, but they will start slow and continue to build until one day -- hopefully -- they make the big leagues.
They want to get there, but they know they cannot rush it.
“I mean, [Philadelphia 76er] Joel Embiid said it best: You’ve got to trust the process,” Abel said.