Teenager Painter in the running for Phillies rotation spot

February 17th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- BayCare Ballpark opened in February 2004, which makes the place only 10 months younger than top Phillies prospect Andrew Painter.

In that time, the Phillies have arranged lockers in the clubhouse numerically, almost without exception. Players with big league experience and low numbers were on one side. Players with no big league experience and high numbers were on the other. It did not matter if those prospects were Cole Hamels or Ryan Howard. If they had a number in the 70s to 90s, they were nowhere near Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay or Jim Thome.

So, it absolutely jumped out Thursday that Painter (No. 76) had his locker next to Phillies ace (No. 45).

“It took me a little while to really get the layout down, but it’s cool to be on that side of the locker room, be right next to Wheeler, close to [Aaron] Nola, just be able to talk to those guys when we’re not doing anything, when we’re just hanging out in there,” Painter said.

Painter’s spot in the clubhouse didn’t happen by accident. Wheeler texted Phillies director of clubhouse services Phil Sheridan before pitchers and catchers had their first workout Thursday at Carpenter Complex. He asked Sheridan where he planned to put Painter, who is the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 6 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. Painter enters camp with a legitimate chance to be the team’s No. 5 starter. If it happens -- and he gets a start before he turns 20 on April 10 -- he will become the first teenager to start for the Phillies since Mark Davis in 1980, and the first teenager to start in the big leagues since Julio Urías in 2016.

Sheridan explained that the Phillies typically put prospects on the other side of the clubhouse.

“Put him next to me or [Aaron Nola],” Wheeler texted back.

“When I was with the Mets, we had a rectangular clubhouse with five lockers at the end,” Wheeler said. “That’s where the starters were. The other ones were close. I liked that. We had a breakfast club where we sat there and talked and ate. If you’re young and you don’t want to ask somebody a question, you might feel more comfortable asking that question if you know the guys.”

“We’ve talked a little bit, but it’s still early,” Painter said. “There hasn’t been anything too crazy in depth, but we’ve been chitchatting a little bit.”

Painter’s top competition this spring is left-hander , who wears No. 70. Falter’s locker is next to Painter’s, which also was not an accident.

Cristopher Sánchez, Nick Nelson and Michael Plassmeyer are also competing for the No. 5 job, Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.

But everybody will be watching Painter. Everybody has been watching him since his first full season of professional baseball last year, when he posted a 1.56 ERA, 38.7% strikeout rate and 6.2% walk rate in 103 2/3 innings across three levels. That earned him Pitcher of the Year recognition from MLB Pipeline. 

Painter, who grew up in Pompano Beach, was selected by the Phillies with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 Draft out of Calvary Christian High School in Fort Lauderdale. He drew immediate comparisons to Josh Beckett from Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, as well as other pitching phenoms.

“He has tremendous abilities, unique abilities,” Dombrowski said Thursday. “He has pitches other than a fastball that he’s had for a while that he can throw for strikes and still command. He has a curveball, slider, changeup, he’s working on a cutter. It’s something that’s unique about him. Then he does the little things well. For somebody that’s 6-foot-7, he holds runners well. He’s quick to the plate. He doesn’t seem to be at all intimidated by anything that takes place. He’s very much at ease.”

Now he just needs to pitch well.

“I’m just worrying about what’s in front of me right now, take it day by day and not look at the big picture too much,” Painter said.

But this whole thing is kind of wild, isn’t it?

“Yeah, I mean, it’s moving fast,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around.”

Painter shrugged. He does not sound like most 19-year-olds. He sounds more confident, more polished.

But he occasionally offers a reminder that he is the youngest player in Phillies camp. In fact, he is 600 days younger than the next youngest player in camp -- fellow pitching prospect Mick Abel, who is 21.

Asked what kind of music he likes, Painter said, “I listen to some old stuff. I’m not into the super-new stuff.”

How old is old?

“Not like old old,” Painter said. “But I’ll listen to 2000s. Early 2010s. Maybe down into the 1990s.”

If he wants to learn more about '90s music, he can always ask his locker buddy. Wheeler was born in 1990.