Painter, Abel, McGarry form Phils' future rotation core

March 15th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It’s no secret that the Phillies have a three-headed pitching monster at the top of their prospect rankings in right-handers , and . Painter’s recent right UCL sprain complicates matters in the short term, but given how all three showed impressive arsenals and results over multiple levels in 2022, the long-term outlook is that the trio could play significant roles in future Philadelphia rotations.

That didn’t just start last year. It came from the moment they entered the organization via the 2021 (Painter, McGarry) and 2020 (Abel) Drafts.

“I don’t think it’s a pitching philosophy,” said Phillies director of player development Preston Mattingly. “It’s more of a pro scouting philosophy. I think [director of amateur scouting Brian Barber] and his staff have taken guys with good bodies, good deliveries and big stuff. Those three fit that mold to a tee."

Painter’s recent injury -- both the pitcher and organization believe rest and rehab will be enough for recovery -- may put an even bigger spotlight on Abel as the organization’s top healthy pitching prospect in the meantime. The 6-foot-5 right-hander stands out for his mid-90s fastball and above-average mid-80s slider as part of a deep four-pitch repertoire, and that helped him post a 3.90 ERA with 130 strikeouts over 108 1/3 innings between High-A Jersey Shore and Double-A Reading in 2022.

That’s just the start of what's No. 48 overall prospect can do.

“Mick grew up and has been in baseball in a strange time,” Mattingly said. “He got drafted in the COVID year. His first year in the Minor Leagues, he didn’t pitch much [with a shoulder issue] while working through some mechanical stuff. Honestly, last year was his first true professional year. He was just building his workload, getting stronger and getting an innings allotment under his belt where he can continue to push forward for years to come. We think he’ll be that starter type that can pitch deep into games.”

By comparison, McGarry, a fifth-rounder out of Virginia, entered pro ball with a College World Series pedigree and took off immediately, climbing from High-A to Triple-A Lehigh Valley while getting bullpen looks with the IronPigs in hopes of aiding the Phillies' relief corps down the stretch. Control woes (53 walks in 87 1/3 innings) kept that from happening, but his 70-grade fastball and full swath of above-average secondary pitches could get him to the bigs this summer. McGarry himself credited the development of a hard slider with being a big part of his breakout.

The Phils reassigned Abel and McGarry to Minor League camp on Sunday, and when he is deemed healthy enough to return, Painter will likely join them in the upper Minors following his run at the fifth MLB rotation spot. After living as roommates this spring, the trio will work to make sure this three-headed monster stays intact for the betterment of themselves and future Phillies pitching staffs.

“Players aren't dumb, right? They know talent,” Mattingly said. “I think they feed off each other. It's good to have a good balance of being able to bounce stuff off guys, being able to ask questions and being around each other. You build a relationship in a competitive environment for each other.”

Camp standout: Carlos De La Cruz

It isn’t hard for the Phillies’ No. 9 prospect to stand out physically on the diamond as a 6-foot-8 outfielder. But after multiple seasons with a sub-.600 OPS, he began to pop statistically in 2022 with a .271/.333/.482 line and 17 homers in 102 games at High-A and Double-A. That earned him a look in the Arizona Fall League (where he batted .307 and slugged .516 in 17 games), and he’s carried that momentum forward into spring.

De La Cruz’s immense raw power from the right side has already manifested itself in games with a 433-foot homer in Grapefruit League play on Feb. 25. More moonshots could be on the way in his return to the upper Minors.

“He made a lot more contact and controlled the zone a little bit better,” Mattingly said. “Carlos has always had a pretty good swing. He just hadn’t put it together yet. Sometimes with guys who are that big, it takes them a little bit longer. I think with him, it's going to be a little bit of a slow burn, but once he figures it out, he has a chance to take off.”

Breakout candidate: William Bergolla

We try not to get too caught up in small samples, but sometimes, an already promising player can do something that should command some level of attention. Take Bergolla, who signed with the Phillies for $2.05 million in January 2022 and then proceeded to strike out only three times in 83 plate appearances, hitting .380 with an .893 OPS in that span.

A left-handed-hitting shortstop, the Venezuela native has shown a quick and short swing that’s translated quickly to the pros. Another test will come when he likely moves stateside this summer, but anything close to a 3.6 percent K rate in his age-18 season will have Bergolla shooting up prospect ranks from his current spot at No. 11.

“He has a chance to have elite bat-to-ball skills and be a really quality defender at shortstop,” Mattingly said. “We hope to see him over here this year. He has to get stronger and honestly continue to improve in all aspects of his game, but he’s a really good young worker.”

Something to prove: Jhailyn Ortiz

Like De La Cruz, Ortiz has raw right-handed slugging ability that has long been his calling card, and that -- along with some swing-decision improvements -- helped earn him a 40-man roster spot in the 2021-22 offseason. The outfielder is 24 heading into his second 40-man season and is coming off a step-back season in which he batted .237/.319/.415 with 17 homers and a 32.7 percent K rate in 119 games at Double-A and then had just a .693 OPS in 14 games in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League.

Ortiz’s power and above-average arm strength will play in a corner, but unless he can find ways to find the barrel, he’ll be on the outskirts of the 40-man for a second straight year.

“You get exposed to more things if you’re on the big league side,” Mattingly said. “You get to see more players. Maybe you see players you played with or against who are now in the big leagues, and you try to speed up your own process. Everybody’s a different case, and they need to just worry about their development.”