The 18-year-old hails from the state of Oregon, and is considered by many to have been the top high school pitcher available in this year’s draft. He has already signed to pitch collegiate ball with Oregon State, but will be expected to pass that up to sign a lucrative deal and turn professional.
“Our scouts were in unanimous agreement, he’s a potential future workhouse and dominating presence at the top of the rotation. We like everything about him.”
Abel’s repertoire, build, and characteristics have led to comparisons to such outstanding big-leaguers as Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg. That’s high praise indeed. His fastball has touched 100 mph, and he has reportedly greatly improved his slider over the last year.
“The slider comes out of his hand right in the same window as his fastball. There’s no hump. It doesn’t come out at a different angle. It pairs up,” pitching instructor Kevin Gunderson said per J.J. Cooper at Baseball America. “They look exactly the same. (The slider) has such late downward depth to it. The hitter doesn’t know if it’s a thigh-high fastball or a shin-high slider that ends up in the dirt. It has such late action on it.”
Heading into the draft, the folks at MLB and Baseball America each had him ranked as the 11th overall prospect. CBS Sports ranked him at 7th overall and ESPN had him at 14th. By that measure the Phillies did well getting Abel with the 15th overall pick.
My problem, and I do have a problem with the selection, is fairly simple: he’s a high school pitcher.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that some of the best pitchers of recent decades have come from among the high school ranks as draftees. Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, C.C. Sabathia, Madison Bumgarner, and the Phillies own Cole Hamels all come to mind.
Let’s look now at their draft year, debut year, and first real impactful year in MLB:
Halladay drafted 1995, debuted 1998, first impact 2002 after return to minors and well-documented adjustments.
Sabathia drafted 1998, debuted 2001, first impact same.
Greinke drafted 2002, debuted 2004, first impact same, then two tough years followed by 2007 largely out of bullpen before taking off starting 2008.
Hamels drafted 2002, debuted 2005 for 2/3 of season, first impact same.
Kershaw drafted 2006, debuted 2008, first impact arguably same, but truly in 2009.
Bumgarner drafted 2007, debuted 2009, first impact 2010 in half-season, first full season impact 2011.
There are others, but these are the very best of the best where high school pitchers who made a lasting impact on Major League Baseball in recent decades are concerned. All either are already there or are potential Hall of Famers. It took each of them at least two minor league seasons and sometimes four or five years overall to begin impacting the big-league rotation.
The Phillies have traditionally been one of the more conservative organizations in the game where giving that first big-league shot to a high schooler is concerned. That’s not likely to change while Andy MacPhail is in charge.
So, the most likely scenario for Abel is that he pitches for at least the better part of three seasons in the Phillies minor league system before even getting a whiff of Citizens Bank Park. His arrival thus comes no sooner than the second half of the 2023 season, probably not before 2024.
If he’s one of these best-of-the-best types, he impacts right away. If a step below or has any setbacks in development or suffers injury, add another year to the timetable.
By the 2024 season when, if all goes completely well and according to the best likely scenario, Abel is around as a legitimate, productive member of the Phillies starting rotation, that is four years from now. Bryce Harper will be 31-years-old. Who else will be here? Hard to say. Aaron Nola becomes a free agent after the 2023 season at age 30, for instance.
Me? I’m expecting the Phillies to push everything they have at becoming a legitimate World Series contender immediately, as in this year and each year to come. For me, a near-ready college player would have been much more appropriate, someone in that Nola mold.
Nola was drafted in 2014 out of LSU and debuted the following summer, pretty much becoming an integral part of the rotation from that point onward. Four years later, the time that I believe it would take Abel just to debut, Nola was a Cy Young Award finalist.
There were talented college arms available when the Phillies made the Abel selection. Those included Cade Cavalli, who the division-rival and defending World Series champion Washington Nationals snatched up seven picks later. The Arizona Diamondbacks grabbed a pair of talented college arms in Bryce Jarvis and Slade Cecconi with the 18th and 33rd overall picks. They were among a half-dozen college pitchers taken shortly after the Phillies selection of Abel.
The Phillies may be right in the long run. Maybe. But we will be waiting three or four years to even begin to find out. Meanwhile, three or four more years will tick off Harper’s prime, the years in which the Phillies really need to be focusing on winning big.
Just one man’s opinion. Hey, as a fan, I’ll be rooting for Abel to be the next Kershaw, coming fast and impacting right away. But how many Clayton Kershaw‘s are there, really? Fingers and toes crossed.