Today is Wednesday, March 1, 2023, and for fans of the Philadelphia Phillies it is a potentially momentous day. When the club takes the field for their Grapefruit League game vs the host Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Florida, a huge part of their future will be on display.

For the first time in a Phillies uniform, teenage sensation Andrew Painter will take the mound. There has been tremendous hype building around the club’s top prospect ever since his breakout 2022 minor league campaign came to a close.

The 19-year-old shot through three levels of that minor league system last season, making nine starts with Low-A Clearwater, eight at High-A Jersey Shore, and ending with a five-game stint at Double-A Reading. He went a combined 6-2 over the 22 outings: 2.54 ERA, 0.953 WHIP, 67 hits allowed across 103.2 innings with a 155/25 K:BB.

Following that brilliant performance, Painter was named by Baseball America as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year and MLB Pipeline now ranks him as the top pitching prospect in the game and sixth-best prospect overall. I rated him the club’s top prospect on my recently released Phillies top 20 prospects list.

Now the talk is that Painter could even become the first teenager to make a start for the Phillies in a regular season game since Larry Christenson did it a half-century ago.

And now, here to throw water on the raging conflagration of all of this fiery talk of a teenage Phillies starting pitcher is your trusty resource at The Bell: I just don’t think that it’s going to happen.

My belief is that the right-hander will begin the season making at least a few starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley before an early season promotion to Philadelphia, at which point he would have turned 20 years of age. My reasoning has nothing to do with Painter’s obvious talent and very little to do with his biological age.

The Phillies top four starting pitchers right now are Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, and newcomer Taijuan Walker. Given health, those four are locked in to starting rotation spots.

So, the real question would be, who becomes the fifth starter, and how often might the club utilize one early in the season?

Opening Day falls on Thursday, March 30 down in Texas. Given health, it is likely that Nola gets the honor of that first 2023 start. He is the longest-tenured Phillies pitcher, has made the last five Opening Day starts for the club, and is expected to sign a long-term deal before that point which will make him a key piece in the long-term puzzle.

Following an off-day on Friday, March 31, the Phillies have six consecutive game days, two more in Texas followed by a three-game set at Yankee Stadium. The first three of those starts should go to Wheeler, Suarez, and Walker.

The start on Tuesday, April 4, against the host Yankees would come on four days rest for Nola. However, it is more likely that manager Rob Thomson would go with his fifth starter on that day. This would allow Nola an extra day of rest early in the year before sending the ace out for that series finale. Wheeler would then get the home opener start vs Cincinnati on April 6.

Now, this is pure speculation on my part. It is, of course, also dependent up the health of these starting pitching options. But it is my belief that the better odds of being handed the fifth starter job to begin the year, and thus drawing the April 4 starting assignment at Yankee Stadium, will be southpaw Bailey Falter.

Set to turn 26 in late April, Falter has seven minor league seasons under his belt. The club’s fifth round draft pick in 2015, Falter also has 48 big-league appearances including 20 starts, 16 of those starts coming just last year.

In 2022, Falter went 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA , 1.207 WHIP, and a 106 ERA+ mark. He allowed 85 hits across 84 innings with a 74/17 K:BB. The left-hander didn’t enter the Phillies starting rotation on a full-time basis until July 24. From that point on he produced a half-dozen Quality Starts with a .245 batting average against over his final 11 outings.

Falter didn’t leave a good taste in the mouths of Phillies fans with his lone postseason appearance. During the 10-6 victory over San Diego in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park, Falter was given the start. He didn’t last for even one full frame, whacked around for four runs on three hits in just 2/3 of an inning.

After retiring the first two batters, Falter surrendered a solo home run to Manny Machado. That was followed by a single, a walk, and then a two-run double off the bat of Brandon Drury. Thomson pulled the plug and it took six relievers to get through what ultimately became a slugfest.

However, Falter should not be judged on that lone postseason unraveling. His career experience and overall fine 2022 performance make him deserving of the early lead in the race to open this year in the Phillies’ starting rotation.

When spring training began, Thomson stated that Falter and Painter are competing with southpaws Cristopher Sanchez and Michael Plassmeyer and righty Nick Nelson for the fifth starter slot. Falter is more talented and experienced in that role than any of those latter three arms.

So, and again, given health of each of these starting options, it may all come down to a decision between Falter and Painter. Unless Falter falls on his face this spring and Painter appears virtually unhittable, I would lean towards the veteran to open the season in Philly.

There is absolutely no harm in giving Painter, who has made just the five upper-level starts at Reading last year, a handful of outings at the highest minor league level in Lehigh Valley. Let him face a few more experienced hitters, get some lower-stress innings under his belt, hopefully enjoy more success, and then bring him up when the calendar flips to May.

As for that first opportunity the Phillies will have to use their fifth starter, it makes much more sense to me to give it to the more experienced lefty pitcher at Yankee Stadium.

When Painter makes his Phillies debut this afternoon, I’ll be watching closely and rooting for him as strongly as any fan of the team. But whether he mows through two innings and registers five strikeouts or surrenders a couple of runs, his coming through healthy and looking poised is all that really matters to me at this point.

See you at Citizens Bank Park when the 2023 schedule flips to the month of May, Andrew Painter.



2 thoughts on “Andrew Painter set to do battle against the odds

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