For the last year, the Phillies made sure they had a scout in position to watch Andrew Painter every time he pitched.
They watched him throw in high school games, on the travel-ball circuit, and in showcase events. The Phillies, dating back to last summer, had zeroed in on the pitcher they drafted last week with the 13th overall pick and signed on Saturday.
But Joe Girardi has been watching him even longer.
Girardi first watched Painter — a 6-foot-7, 230-pound right-hander — when he was a freshman at Florida’s Calvary Christian High School. Painter was the fourth starter that season when Calvary won the 2017 state championship. Girardi’s son, Dante, was the team’s shortstop.
“They got a great kid who I think has a huge upside,” Girardi said. “He’s athletic. I was always amazed at how he fielded his position, how well he covered the bases and his time to home plate. He had the ability to throw four pitches at a young age. It’s a kid’s arm who’s been taken care of.”
The Phillies signed Painter on Saturday along with their first 11 selections in the 20-round draft. Six of their first eight selections were pitchers, including Virginia right-hander Griff McGarry, who walked nearly nine batters per nine innings and lost his spot in the starting rotation this season before emerging in the playoffs with two excellent starts. His fastball touches 97 mph.
“You can talk to him or the coaches at Virginia, they know that strike throwing has been an issue for him,” Phillies director of amateur scouting Brian Barber said. “We actually identified some legitimate delivery changes that both he and Drew Dickinson, the pitching coach at the University of Virginia, made and we did side-by-side slow-motion video analysis of them and they’re legitimate changes that he made and came back at the end of the year to look better. We think he’s headed in that direction. The stuff has never been a question for anyone and we identified that with some of our analytics that it’s top-of-the scale in the draft. Compare it with anyone who went in the first round to the fifth round, where he went. We’ll continue and hope it goes in the right direction with the strike throwing.”
Painter, who is represented by Scott Boras, had a 0.31 ERA this season at Calvary and struck out 91 batters in 45⅓ innings. Painter struck out 54% of the batters he faced and held opponents to a .119 average at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. school.
“He’s up to 97, 98 mph and he’s still a baby in a sense,” Girardi said. “He’s young.”
For two straight years, the Phillies have used their first-round pick on a high school arm. They can now dream about pairing Painter with Mick Abel, last summer’s No. 15 pick. Abel is pitching well at low-A Clearwater, throwing a fastball that touches triple digits. Like Painter, he’s years away from the majors.
It is the first time in 19 years that the Phils spent consecutive first-round picks on high school arms. Cole Hamels, the first-rounder in 2002, reached the majors four seasons later after dealing with injuries in the minors. The Phillies drafted Gavin Floyd in 2001′s first round and he was in the majors three years later. A similar timeline could be applied to Painter and Abel.
“When you start talking about the excitement and upside of getting Mick last year and the opportunity to add Andrew to that,” said Barber, “and those guys rise up through the minor leagues together and hopefully one day front your rotation in Philadelphia, yeah, that gets us excited.”
“I definitely think it’s cool because I think we came from similar scenarios,” Painter said. “Maybe he could work like a mentor as he’s been through the same thing that I’m about to go through. I think that will be really helpful.”
The Phillies had their scouting reports on Painter, but they also received an update from the manager who had seen him pitch before any Phillies official. Barber said the Phillies will use every bit of information they can get. Girardi had inside information.
“It wasn’t like they called me right before the draft,” Girardi said. “They knew what they wanted to do. That’s what they’re paid to do. I mean, I’m happy with their choice.”
After being selected, Painter mentioned how he used to see Girardi rake the infield dirt at Calvary Christian. The pitcher would grab a hose and water the grass while talking to his teammate’s dad, who might one day be his major-league manager.
Girardi said the pitcher with the high-90s fastball was pretty good at watering the grass, too. Add that to the scouting report.
The Phillies completed a January trade with the Red Sox by sending double-A starter Victor Santos to Boston. Santos, a 21-year-old right-hander, has a 3.05 ERA in four starts with Reading. C.J. Chatham, the utility player the Phillies acquired, was removed from the 40-man roster at the end of spring training and is now on the injured list at triple A. ... Sam Coonrod, on the injured list with forearm tendinitis, will begin a rehab assignment Sunday. ... Aaron Nola threw a bullpen session on Saturday afternoon and is on track to start Tuesday’s series opener at Yankee Stadium.