If Mick Abel, 18 years old and five days removed from receiving his high school diploma, wanted a draft-night story that he could tell forever and still not be believed, he got it moments after hearing his name called on national television Wednesday night.
“Bryce Harper actually FaceTimed me,” Abel said.
Wait, the Phillies star right fielder? That Bryce Harper?
“Yeah, I thought that was pretty cool,” Abel said. “I got caught by surprise. I was kind of like, ‘Oh, who’s FaceTiming me? I don’t have the number, so I better answer.’ I answered and saw his face pop up. I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s Bryce Harper. What the heck?’”
After that, well, a Zoom call with the Philadelphia media must’ve been awfully disappointing.
Life changes pretty quickly when you’re the 15th player taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. Never mind that Abel’s senior season at Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., got canceled because of the coronavirus. Or that the Phillies hadn’t taken a pitcher with their first pick since Aaron Nola out of LSU in 2014 or a high school pitcher since Shane Watson in 2012.
Abel, a 6-foot-5 right-hander whose fastball touched 100 mph in a recent workout, was the player that they wanted when their turn came up midway through the first round.
“Mick is a pitcher that I’ve known for over two years now and just one that I fell in love with the very first time that I ever saw him,” first-year Phillies scouting director Brian Barber said. “Super excited to have the opportunity to select him.”
Like all draft picks, Abel represents a risk. But the risk tends to be just a little bit greater when scouts try to project the development of an 18-year-old scholastic pitcher.
It’s one of the reasons Johnny Almaraz, Barber’s predecessor and still a Phillies special adviser, selected a hitter in the first round of each of the five drafts over which he presided as scouting director. Under Almaraz, the Phillies didn’t select a high school pitcher higher than the second round (42nd overall), when they grabbed right-hander Kevin Gowdy in 2016.
But Barber, in another lifetime, was drafted in the first round as a touted high school pitcher. He made it all the way to the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1995 and might have had a long career if not for a deluge of arm injuries.
So, with Abel remaining on the board when the Phillies took their turn in the annual (virtual) draft, Barber wasn’t going to allow draft philosophy to stand in the way of taking the player he believed was the best available.
“You take the college position player and you have three years of statistics and three years of analytics and three years of data, so the comfort level in what you’re going to get is ultimately higher than, say, a high school pitcher,” Barber said last week. “But there’s some really good high school guys that were drafted as high school pitchers that are in the major leagues as well. I do not want to walk by the right guy just on a personal philosophy.”
In drafting Abel, the Phillies relied on reports filed last year by Zach Friedman, their scout in charge of uncovering talent in the Pacific Northwest. In one of Barber’s first conversations after getting hired by the Phillies last fall, Friedman made sure to tout Abel.
“He just wanted to make sure that I knew who Mick Abel was,” Barber said, “and that he loved him.”
High school seasons were canceled because of COVID-19, so nobody has gotten a live look at Abel lately. Perhaps that’s why he was still available to the Phillies. In a draft teeming with collegiate talent anyway, the first seven picks that came off the board were college players.
The Phillies did, however, pay a recruiting visit to Abel at his home in Oregon in January. They used recent video that Abel uploaded from his workouts at Gunderson Baseball Academy in West Linn, Ore., to supplement the evaluations submitted by Friedman, West region supervisor Shane Bowers, and other scouts on the ground.
And they met with him for about 90 minutes over Zoom three weeks ago, with seven people conducting interviews.
“There were times where it felt like a job interview with some of the questions," Abel said. “But I understand that it’s crucial, especially in these times where you’re not able to go out and visit kids in their houses. Getting the opportunity to talk with the Phillies staff and front office, I think it really helped me in the long run in getting to this position where I am now.”
Said Barber: “The person, the player, the makeup that we’re getting, I’m 100 percent sold on.”
At 6-5 and 190 pounds, Abel has the frame to support his power arm. He went 10-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 72⅓ innings as a junior last year, helping Jesuit to an Oregon state championship. Overall, he went 18-3 with a 1.98 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 150⅔ innings in high school. He also pitched for Team USA last summer in the under-18 Baseball World Cup.
And although Oregon isn’t considered to be a hotbed for baseball talent, the state did produce catcher Adley Rutschman, last year’s No. 1 overall pick to the Baltimore Orioles, who just so happens to have caught several of Abel’s bullpen sessions back home.
Word is that Rutschman believes Abel’s slider is one of the best he has seen.
Abel has a scholarship to Oregon State, Rutschman’s alma mater. Being the 15th overall pick in the country — and the $3,885,800 bonus that’s attached to it — almost certainly changes things.
“To be the first high school pitcher off the board, it’s truly an honor," Abel said. “I’m very humbled. I have the blessing to be selected and obviously it’s amazing to be selected by the Philadelphia Phillies.”
The draft, reduced from 40 rounds to only five this year, continues Thursday with the final four rounds. The Phillies don’t have a second-round pick, a consequence of signing free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler. They will make a pick in the third (87th overall), fourth (116th), and fifth (146th) rounds.
After the draft, teams may sign undrafted amateur players for a maximum of $20,000 apiece. It’s not yet clear how aggressive the Phillies will be in that market.
But they were perfectly satisfied with how things worked out in the first round. Harper, in particular.