Confident prospect Abel looks strong vs. Braves

March 19th, 2023

NORTH PORT, Fla -- is the No. 2 prospect in the Phillies organization for a reason, and on Saturday night, he showed a glimpse of what the future could hold.

The 21-year-old and 15th overall pick in the 2020 Draft was given a test when he toed the rubber against a lineup resembling that of a regular-season game.

Due to some flaring injuries to Phillies pitchers in recent weeks, Abel was brought back to camp after being reassigned last Sunday. It's safe to say he was ready to go. The 6-foot-5 right-hander touched nearly triple-digits on the radar gun consistently, mixed in a plus-slider and was sharp over two innings in the Phillies' 5-1 loss to the Braves.

Abel wasted little time showing his blazing fastball, striking out All-Star Ozzie Albies to start the game throwing nothing but heaters. He walked Matt Olson on a pitch low in the zone on a full count, but stranded him at first by striking out Austin Riley with a sweeping slider and getting Travis d'Arnaud to fly out.

He sat the Braves down in order in the second, needing just 10 pitches to get defending NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II to fly out to left, Vaughn Grissom to fly out to right, and Sam Hilliard to pop out to short.

"Felt good. Felt confident. Nice and relaxed and ready to go," Abel said. "I think it kind of reinforces the hard work that I've put in this offseason, kind of helps me trust my stuff a little bit more, and it's going to prepare me for whatever comes next."

Abel can be described as a gamer who has learned to go about his business the right way early on in his career. For instance, upon seeing the lineup he’d face Saturday and the recognizable names, he thought, "Oh, that's awesome." Outings like this also give a highly touted prospect the belief and experience of doing it at the highest level, and Abel seems hungry. 

"It's pretty cool to go up against those guys and hopefully I can in the future a lot, too," Abel said. "I think [my outing] kind of proved [my stuff] can play at any level. I think it reinforces the confidence that I put in a lot of work to get to those sorts of moments -- facing big league guys -- and just helps me trust my stuff a lot better."

Abel's progression goes beyond the pitcher's mound, and into the clubhouse. He has chatted and picked up knowledge from teammates like Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Taijuan Walker. He’s even soaked in what hitters like Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins have had to say after facing him in batting practice. 

"It's been awesome. I've learned a lot from all the guys in the clubhouse," Abel said. "Not just about baseball, about how to act, how to be respectful around each other, and just have a good time. I've taken a lot from Nola, Wheeler, Walker -- everybody really, just routine-wise and how to prepare my body for each day. How to relax on the days that you need to relax."

Naturally, the Phillies are looking for big things out of not just the second-ranked player in their system, but the 48th overall ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline. In 2021, Abel compiled 66 strikeouts over 44 2/3 innings at Single-A Clearwater, starting 14 games for the Threshers while posting a 4.43 ERA and a not-so-friendly 5.4 walks per nine innings.

Abel made a step forward in the control department in 2022, lowering that rate to 4.2 while striking out 10.8 hitters per nine innings between High-A Jersey Shore and Double-A Reading. He pitched to a 3.90 ERA over 108 1/3 innings in '22, striking out 130 batters across 23 starts. 

Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham called Abel "really impressive" in camp this year and said "it's huge" for a youngster like him to get experience with the big club.

"You get to see what the best in the world do," Cotham said. "He's one of the best pitchers on the planet, too, he's just not at that level of tenure.

"Obviously [Abel is] incredibly talented. But I've seen over the month, month and a half here, that just how he's thinking is getting better and better, and how he's thinking about the game and the game slowing down, even in sides. He got the taste of a big league atmosphere, big league game. It's Spring Training, but it's the same game. So I think it's slowing down for him."