Phillies right-hander Andrew Painter, arguably the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, reported feeling “tenderness” in his elbow and has been sent for testing, manager Rob Thomson announced to reporters Friday (link via Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer). The skipper did not provide further specifics on the type of tests being performed or the organization’s level of concern. More information is expected to be provided tomorrow.
Just 19 years old, Painter was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2021 draft and has soared through the Phillies’ system to the cusp of MLB readiness in less than two years’ time. He pitched across three levels in 2022 — Class-A, Class-A Advanced and Double-A — working to a combined 1.56 ERA with a massive 38.7% strikeout rate, a strong 6.2% walk rate and a tiny 0.43 HR/9 mark through 103 2/3 frames. Both Baseball America and MLB.com rank Painter as the game’s best pitching prospect and one of the top six overall prospects in the sport.
Despite his youth and lack of Triple-A seasoning, Painter was vying for a spot in the Phillies’ Opening Day rotation. Philadelphia currently has Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez and offseason signee Taijuan Walker locked into spots, but Painter has been competing with Bailey Falter (among others) for the fifth and final place in Thomson’s rotation. He just made his Grapefruit League debut earlier in the week, tossing a pair of innings against the Twins and allowing a run on three hits and no walks with one strikeout. Painter tossed 29 pitches in that outing, regularly hitting 99 mph with his heater.
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There’s little sense in speculating as to what type of injury, if any, Painter may be battling. The Phillies are concerned enough to send him for testing of some degree, which is cause for obvious trepidation among the fan base. Then again, it should be emphasized that it behooves the Phillies to proceed with as much caution as possible, given Painter’s upside and long-term value to the club. To this point, there’s no indication that the team expects a serious injury to be at play.
If Painter were to miss time, be it a brief shutdown in camp or a stay on the injured list once the season is underway, Falter’s grip on the final rotation spot would likely tighten. The 25-year-old appeared in 20 games with the Phils last year, 16 of them starts, and pitched to a solid 3.86 ERA through 84 frames. Falter’s 21.2% strikeout rate was a bit below average, but his 4.9% walk rate was among the best in baseball — tied for 20th-best among the 159 pitchers who tossed at least 80 innings.