Nearing the midway point of Spring Training, the Phillies fifth starter competition seems to be over. Yesterday, it was revealed that Andrew Painter, the Phillies top prospect and No. 6 in all of baseball, was diagnosed with a right proximal ulnar collateral ligament sprain. Painter will be sidelined for the next four weeks before beginning to ease back into a throwing program. Bailey Falter, who the Phils relied heavily on down the stretch run of last season, is now considered to be the heavy favorite to break camp in the final rotation spot.

Falter will likely serve as a stopgap until Painter is ready for big league action––which could be mid-May at the earliest. There is plenty of optimism the lefty will excel as the fifth starter to begin the season, though, as he pitched to the tune of a 3.00 ERA in his final 45 innings while holding opponents to .665 OPS. However, the Phillies finally have something it feels like they’ve never had: depth. 

Mick Abel and Griff McGarry, the organization’s No. 2 and No 3 prospects, respectively, have both impressed this spring and are likely to play a role on the Phillies at some point this season. While Painter has gotten all the attention––as he should––Abel and McGarry should not be slept on as pivotal pieces to the Phils’ 2023 pitching staff.

Abel, who is ranked as the 9th best right-handed pitching prospect and 48th overall, won’t turn 22 until August. The 6’5” righty currently has at least two plus pitches, a mid-90s fastball and sharp slider, while mixing in a changeup and curveball––both with potential to be plus pitches. The kid’s stuff is simply overpowering––just take a look at his 2022 highlights. The Phillies are building him up like a future workhorse at the top of the rotation as he logged 108.1 innings last season between High A and Double-A while pitching into the sixth inning eight times––seven of which came in an eight start stretch.

While Abel possesses a free and easy, repeatable delivery to the plate, he still struggles with consistent command of his pitches as he averaged 4.2 BB/9. Though 4.2 is a high number, it’s a significant improvement from his 2021 season where he averaged 5.2 BB/9. Additionally, in a live batting practice session against Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Schwarber, the Phils’ sluggers noticed Abel’s arm slows down when he throws his changeup. It’s an easy fix, and one Abel will make leading up to his third pro-season which will likely begin in Double-A. 

Like Abel, Griff McGarry is a power arm with exploding stuff, but is not without his command struggles. Drafted in the fifth-round out of Virginia in 2021, the 23-year-old split time between the Cavaliers’ starting rotation and bullpen because of his extreme inconsistency. However, when he joined the Phillies organization, the development staff was able to refine his delivery which turned him into one of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the sport. For your viewing pleasure, here’s McGarry striking out 13 this past summer.

After dominating High A and Double-A last season, the Phils promoted McGarry to Triple-A where he exclusively pitched out of the bullpen to prepare him for a possible big league role in September. Though he never got the call, it is quite possible the righty could see time out of the ‘pen this season. McGarry’s upper-90s fastball and slider-curveball combo could be a dominating mix for a couple innings of relief. Not to mention, the righty is averaging 13.9 K/9 in his professional career. He’ll begin the year in the rotation at Triple-A where the Phillies hope he’ll be over the long term if he can continue to improve his command.

It’s important to reiterate that Abel and McGarry are not finished products––and neither is Painter. There will be growing pains, especially as Abel and McGarry continue to develop in the upper levels of the minor leagues. However, the two pitching prospects cannot be overlooked as potential contributors this upcoming season. Their role this season is simple: next-man up.

The Phillies haven’t had this kind of high-upside pitching depth since…well, you know. McGarry will likely be the next guy up if Painter suffers a setback in his recovery and Falter struggles out of the gate. Abel isn’t far off either as he could find himself in Triple-A by mid-May if he doesn’t begin the season there. No team ever goes through a 162-game season using five starters. Abel and McGarry will very likely find themselves in the big league rotation soon and could provide some insurance as the Phillies try to manage their three top prospects’ innings. If not the rotation, they could be a two-headed monster out of the ‘pen during the stretch run. 

Photo: Hannah Ally Photography

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