Phillies’ pitchers and catchers will report to Clearwater, Florida this week. That means that the start of baseball season is nearly upon us. The Philadelphia Phillies enter the spring with their roster essentially set with a few exceptions. The team returned almost all of its 2022 N.L. Champion roster and upgraded in the few places it didn’t.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to watch for in the spring. The biggest thing to follow will be the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation that will feature the Phillies three top prospects in Andrew Painter, Mick Abel, and Griff McGarry.
The assumption among many people around the Phillies is that the fifth spot is Andrew Painter’s to lose. Painter, the near consensus top pitching prospect in all of baseball, will turn just 20 years old in April and has thrown a collective 109.2 professional innings in his career. However, he has dominated both A ball and Double A, with a 2.05 ERA and eye-popping 13.7 K/9. Painter features a Major League ready fastball that sits in the upper 90s and touches 100 MPH. He has shown that he can command it to all areas of the zone, especially up high, with a big, sweeping slider to compliment it. Painter’s starts this spring will be must-see as he gets his first taste of Major League hitters.
Mick Abel, another top 50 prospect, will also be in camp and receive some looks against big league hitters. Abel is a longshot to make the team and appears likely to start the season in Reading with a possible late season promotion to Triple A possible. He posted a combined 3.90 ERA in 108.1 innings across High A Jersey Shore and Double A Reading. Abel is still just 21 years old and isn’t quite on the fast-paced track that Painter is on. Getting him some innings against Major League hitters will benefit him as he looks to at least finish the season in Lehigh Valley and possibly be in the mix for a September call up.
The Wild Card
McGarry has a chance to crack the roster out of camp and will likely be the first starter called up in the event of an injury regardless. He might have the best pitch arsenal of the big three, but he has struggled with commanding it at times. McGarry finished last season in Triple A and sputtered down the stretch after working through a blister and a bullpen experiment. The Phillies elected to promote McGarry to Triple A but as a reliever, as they were looking to see if he could contribute to last season’s postseason push. That didn’t go as planned however, as the jump in competition and the aforementioned blister led to a 9.00 ERA in 7 appearances and 9 walks in just 8 innings at Lehigh Valley. Nevertheless, a healthy McGarry who is back in the starter role should firmly be in the mix for the fifth spot.
Despite the hype around Painter and the others, they will still have to hold off incumbent fifth starter Bailey Falter. Falter was huge down the stretch for the Phillies, as he posted a 3.38 ERA in 11 second half starts that includes a stretch of six starts in August and mid-September where he posted a 2.36 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. Falter’s performance late in the season was a boon for a Phillies rotation that was missing Zack Wheeler due to injury and suffering through a second half implosion from Kyle Gibson. He deserves a chance to retain his spot in the rotation, or at the very least make the team as a swingman in the bullpen.
One will win, but more could follow
One of these four pitchers will break camp as the fifth starter. Some have more of a chance than others, but they will all be under consideration. Also, if it is indeed Painter to start the year, there’s a strong chance that Falter or even McGarry could still see big league starts. In that event, Philadelphia will likely look to maximize Painter’s innings limit with short IL stints, skipping starts, or a six-man rotation. With the roster mostly set and most of the big names missing a large chunk of camp at the World Baseball Classic, the battle of Painter versus Falter, McGarry, and Abel will be the focus of the spring.