Offseason plan for Andrew Painter; Griff McGarry still a starter

Some of the Phillies’ best prospects have been at Citizens Bank Park in recent days as part of the team’s “PDP prospects program.” The idea is to make the transition to the major leagues as seamless as possible. The prospects get to see nearby housing, get to know the team and its employees, receive media training and even where to park at the stadium.

It underlines how close some of these prospects are to the top-flight club. For Andrew Painter, who is only 19 years old but has skyrocketed through the Phillies minor league system, the big leagues never seemed far away.

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Painter, a 2021 first-round pick, was recently named the Phillies’ Paul Owens Award winner, which the team presents to the organization’s best minor league pitcher. He jumped three levels in his first season in the Phillies system — from single-A Clearwater to high-A Jersey Shore to double-A Reading — and has a 1.48 ERA with 155 strikeouts in 109⅔ innings.

It’s been an impressive season, especially for a player as young as Painter. As they do with all their players, the Phillies gave Painter a few things to work on during the off-season. Phillies Farm director Preston Mattingly cited command, the development of Painter’s change-up and the separation of his break balls as points of interest for Painter heading into next season.

“We think the change is an above-average pitch that we feel for him,” Mattingly said. “It makes him feel comfortable using that because at the top level we think we still really need to use all four of his weapons. It won’t just be the fastball, slider. So changeup development, I think probably the most important thing would be to just be more comfortable throwing because we think he’s got a pretty good one already.

“Separating the two break balls is something else. I know he worked on it a bit. The curveball and slider can sometimes merge. I think we really tried to focus on him separating those two.”

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Despite the few things Painter has to focus on in the off-season, the past year has given the Phillies a lot of cause for optimism.

“The stuff got a lot better, just like sheer speed,” Mattingly said of Painter. “When I saw him in the educational league last year, it was more in those 92 to 95” [mph] reach. And this year when I saw him it was 95 to 100. So the jump in speed is obviously impressive, and then, frankly, the command got better as he leveled up, which was pretty impressive.

“I think he struggled the most to control the zone in low A. When he reached double A at the end, the walks went way down. The strikeouts were still in a good spot. So it was very impressive to see that, especially coming from a 19-year-old boy.”

McGarry, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, has also jumped three levels this year, from high A to triple A. The Phillies used him out of the bullpen to see if he could potentially contribute to the big-league club down the line. , but McGarry has spent his collegiate and minor league career as a starter.

He struggled in his five games at triple A with an ERA that rose from 2.20 to 5.14, but Mattingly believes some of that may be due to a blister that put him on the injured list.

“Obviously, if you have a blister that keeps coming back, it’s probably in the back of your mind,” Mattingly said. “I can’t speak for Griff and what he was thinking, but I think that could be a bit of a factor.

“I also think a lot of it is that he faces a different level of batters, right? Triple A is hitters who can knock off certain pitches that he had thrown at the lower levels that guys swing at. It’s just him who understands where he has to go in the zone and how to finish guys at the higher levels.”

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Mattingly said the Phillies plan to use McGarry as a starter next season, despite coming out of the bullpen in recent weeks.

“Griff McGarry is 100% a starting pitcher. We see that as an organization,” Mattingly said. “This was more of a way of keeping his innings in check, while also exposing him to another role, but Griff is 100% a starting pitcher moving forward.

“I think he has some of the best, if not the best, stuff in all the minor leagues. So I think if you’re just starting out there, that’s really impressive. And I think his ability as he was built up as a starting pitcher to get deeper into games, I think we saw the command improve. So I think we’re really encouraged by the year he had as a starting pitcher, and I think we’ll continue that in the future.”

Mattingly named two prospects who have impressed him in recent weeks and have flown somewhat under the radar. The first is Andrew Baker, a 22-year old righthanded reliever, who posted a 3.98 ERA in 54⅓ innings between single-A Jersey Shore and double-A Reading.

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“He’s a very hard-throwing kid,” Mattingly said. “He’s 98 to 100 this year and up to 102. At one point I think he averaged 99. It’s an elite fastball, speed-wise, and he has a breaking ball at 88-90 miles per hour that has a chance to be plus, so he has a special arm.

“Last year’s command numbers this year have improved significantly. So yes, he is a special arm, a special talent. I look forward to seeing if we can build on that next year.”

De La Cruz is an outfielder who will be one of the Phillies’ representatives in the fall league this year. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound 22-year-old can play all three outfield positions and first base. He hit .271/.333/.482 with 17 home runs between single-A Jersey Shore and double-A Reading.

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“It has the very best output speeds, so we think it will be top power,” said Mattingly. “I think he’s still coming into his own body, in terms of maturity, and we think with his power ability he has a really good swing and also his ability to defend.

“With a kid his size, you always worry about the swing getting a little long. He’s very direct to the ball. He’s better at getting the ball in the air. He puts himself in a really good position to hit again and again.”

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