A few hours before Thursday night’s game, Andrew Painter sat in the Phillies’ dugout and looked out at the field as the Atlanta Braves took batting practice.
Can he imagine standing on the mound here next season?
“I mean, 100%,” Painter said. “If they’re ready for that.”
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Who wouldn’t be ready for a 6-foot-7 right-hander with a 98 mph fastball, slider, curveball, and emerging changeup? Oh, and did we mention that he won’t turn 20 until April?
Painter was at Citizens Bank Park to receive the Paul Owens Award, presented annually since 1986 to the Phillies’ top minor league player and pitcher. (Darick Hall, the position player recipient, couldn’t attend because he was playing for triple-A Lehigh Valley).
But president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in July that he’s unafraid to move young pitchers quickly through the farm system, and few pitchers in the minors were more dominant than Painter, the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft.
In 22 starts between low-A Clearwater, high-A Jersey Shore, and double-A Reading, Painter had a 1.56 ERA and a 38.7% strikeout rate in 103⅔ innings. He led all Phillies minor leaguers in strikeouts (155) and was the first to post a sub-1.60 ERA with at least 145 strikeouts in a season since Cole Hamels in 2003.
“First full year, to receive this award and get through it healthy the whole year and just to stay consistent the whole year, it was great,” Painter said. “I think I showed a lot of improvements from beginning to end and just got better as we went. It feels great to be rewarded with this.”
Painter cited pitching deeper into starts and refining his secondary pitches as the biggest areas of growth this season. His changeup, in particular, became an important pitch after he arrived in double A as the youngest player in the Eastern League.
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“In double A, I kind of started using the changeup a little more,” Painter said. “It was really cool to see because sometimes they cheat for the fastball and try to get on that. Flash the changeup every now and then, you can kind of see the difference of getting off the fastball now. It just made everything a lot smoother.”
Dombrowski said Painter will be invited to major league camp in spring training next year. It’s possible the Phillies will have a vacancy in the starting rotation, with Kyle Gibson, Noah Syndergaard, and possibly Zach Eflin eligible for free agency.
“Just got to go into the offseason like I always do, get after it in the weight room, and prepare for spring training no matter what,” Painter said. “Whether that’s double A, triple A, or here throughout the year, it’s going to be the same thing where I’m pitching every sixth day and just worry about that.”