Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Andrew Painter’s time with the Phillies will be here soon. Why not now?

Promoting a 19-year-old pitcher from double A to the big leagues won't happen, according to conventional wisdom. Here's why it should.

Top Phillies prospect Andrew Painter has dominated at every level of the minor leagues in his young career.
Top Phillies prospect Andrew Painter has dominated at every level of the minor leagues in his young career.Read moreMike Janes / AP

Right around the time the Phillies sent Connor Brogdon out to the mound to save a must-win game on Wednesday night, I sent a text to an NL scout who has seen plenty of the Phillies system this season.

My question:

What’s the argument against calling up Andrew Painter as soon as the minor league season ends?

I assumed I was crazy, which is usually a safe assumption.

But then came the response:

I don’t have one.

» READ MORE: ‘Unreal’ double feature: Mick Abel and Andrew Painter offer glimpse of what could be for Phillies

Look, it ain’t gonna happen. And I’m not going to climb up on a soap box and spit all over multiple decades of developmental wisdom and tell you that it absolutely should happen. Really, according to the rules of the game, it shouldn’t happen. Painter might be treating double-A hitters like his own personal Shark Week, but he is still less than 16 months removed from his high school graduation. It’s been more than 40 years since the Phillies used a pitcher who was still in his teens. Painter is only 151 days into his 19th year of life. He’d be the youngest Phillies pitcher to take the mound since Rick Wise did it in 1964 at the age of 18. It just doesn’t happen anymore.

But maybe it should.

Wise is an interesting name to bring up. His debut came in 1964, when the Phillies spent most of the summer in first place only to collapse in September. Sixteen years later, in that magical 1980 season, the Phillies used 19-year-old Mark Davis for a couple of spot appearances in the last month of the regular season. In between, Larry Chistenson made his Phillies debut at the age of 19 years old and 205 days. That was in 1973. The Phillies were not good.

Why doesn’t it happen anymore? It’s a good question, and there are some valid answers. For one, the game is a lot more physically demanding now than it used to be. Fastball velocities are significantly higher than they were even 15 years ago. If your ball doesn’t move, it doesn’t have much of a chance against the bat speeds of modern hitters. The human arm evolved to chuck spears on the savanna — not throw 97 on the black to a guy who will hit it 400 feet any time you miss. Modern pitchers put a tremendous amount of stress on their arms with every pitch. Wise averaged 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his career.

Handle with care

Point is, teams are justifiably concerned about giving young pitchers too much too soon. They need time to build their arms and their routines and their bodies up to a point where they are equipped to withstand the combination of frequency and force that comes with being one of 12 or 13 pitchers on a roster. The Phillies have been managing Painter very, very carefully. He has yet to make a start on less than five days of rest. Before his promotion to double A, 13 of his 15 starts had come with six days of rest.

» READ MORE: Phillies prospects update: Andrew Painter, Mick Abel working to pitch deeper in games

Teams like the Phillies have a lot more invested in a top prospect like Painter than they did in guys like Wise and Christenson. The stakes are much higher. The one thing the Phillies cannot afford is an injury to Painter. It’s a valid concern, especially for someone who has more skin in the game than a dopey know-it-all columnist.

But it’s also just that: a concern, a covering of the bases, a covering of the you-know-what. One might even argue that it is a fruitless attempt to control the uncontrollable. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski isn’t going to get called into the boss man’s office and have to explain why his 19-year-old pitching prospect didn’t blow his arm out. From the risk-reward perspective of those in charge of promoting these prospects, there’s no wonder why so many of them languish in the minors for so long.

Thing is, the Phillies could do it. They could make it work. Rosters have expanded to 28. You bring the kid up, you put him out on the mound every five or six days, and you go inning by inning. Every inning that he gives you is one less inning that you need to get out of someone else. You have Ranger Suárez waiting in the wings. What’s the worst that can happen? Now, compare that to the ceiling.

Sure, there are roster concerns. You have to balance the short-term upside with the short-term downside and then balance that with the service time and 40-man roster implications. Again, the Phillies are perfectly justified with what they are going to do, which is send Painter home and put their faith in Sam Coonrod. The system is designed for that.

So maybe the point of all of this is to say that the system stinks, that the Phillies have a potentially generational talent under contract who will be sitting at home watching the stretch run on television. Painter is only five months away from reporting to Clearwater and potentially competing for a spot in the big-league rotation. They are going to have to add him to the 40-man at some point. His arm is going to have to hold up at some point. Why not now?

Dominating in double A

My sense from people who have been privy to Dombrowski’s behind-the-scenes thoughts is that Painter is a real possibility to join the rotation next year. Maybe not opening day, but sooner rather than later. The Phillies promoted him to double A at 19 years old for a reason. They were well aware that making the move left them with little else to do with the kid if he kept on dominating. Again, let these numbers sink in. Of the 70 batters who have faced him since his promotion to Reading, 23 have struck out, while only 17 have reached base. Only three have hit for extra bases. One has walked. One.

» READ MORE: The Phillies acquired Edmundo Sosa for his defense, but ‘I have a bat, too’

I framed that from the hitters’ perspective for a reason. The hitters are the ones who tell you where a pitcher is at. And if these hitters are this overpowered by the guy, what is Painter really gaining by continuing to face them?

More importantly, why wouldn’t you want to try to milk some value out of those bullets at the major league level? Clayton Kershaw was 20 years old when the Dodgers called him up back in 2008. That same postseason, the Rays were bringing David Price out of the bullpen barely a year after they drafted him.

The only answer is a frustrating abstraction. It’s just not the way things are done. But maybe things need to change when you have a generational talent in your possession and a team that has not made the playoffs in more than a decade.

I’ll leave you with the four words the scout left me with: “[Bleep] it. Why not?”

» READ MORE: Why Zach Eflin and Griff McGarry are the X factors for the Phillies’ shorthanded pitching staff