With his first pick as Phillies director of amateur scouting, Brian Barber took right-hander Mick Abel out of Jesuit High School just outside of Portland, Oregon. The then 18-year-old was considered the best high school pitcher in the entire draft. The Phillies Zoom draft room loved him.
“Our scouts were in unanimous agreement, he’s a potential future workhorse and dominating presence at the top of a rotation,” Barber told the Philadelphia media, including Jim Salisbury, at his 2020 post-draft press conference. “As a person and a player, we’re 100 percent sold on him.”
Not much has changed, according to Barber.
“I saw Mick in instructional league last year and then I saw him pitch in spring training this year, and I would just tell you he’s exactly what we thought he was going to be come this time,” Barber said Thursday. “He still has a long ways to get to the big leagues and he still has a lot of different things to learn, but as far as the talent level that’s on the field, he’s exactly what we thought it was going to be.”
Abel is currently working on his craft in Low-A with the Clearwater Threshers. After striking out 16 batters over nine innings in his last two starts combined, Abel struggled against the St. Lucie Mets on July 2, allowing four earned runs over 2 2/3 innings. He’s up to 65 pitches per game and has a 4.86 ERA in 11 starts. While the ERA isn’t exactly where Abel would like it to be, he’s averaging around 95 mph on his fastball while maxing out at 99. He also possess a highly touted slider.
The Phillies’ recent track record of drafting high school pitchers is mixed. They struck gold with the selection of future franchise cornerstone Cole Hamels in 2002. While it’s way too early to tell for sure, it appears Bailey Falter is the next high school pitching draftee in line to positively contribute to the big league club over a span of multiple seasons.
The gap between the two is staggering. Falter was drafted the same year the Phillies traded Hamels away to the Texas Rangers.
“There’s always going to be an associated risk bringing in any 18 year old pitcher from the high school crop,” Barber said. “Just getting them into professional baseball and getting them used to the innings and getting them on a workload for pitching and some of the medical history tells us that an overwhelming number of injuries happen between the years of 18 to 21. So you’re taking on that risk. And do you evaluate the pitcher as having that much upside to battle the risk involved?”
It’s no secret that the Phillies lack high-end talent in its farm system. With top prospects Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard nearing the bigs, Barber and the Phillies had to find a way to add an impact talent with high upside with the No. 15 pick. While Abel’s estimated time of arrival is still a few years away (think 2023-2024), it sounds like the Phillies have found their guy.
Now, they’ll need to find a few more of those.
“I think we’re going to try to go after the guy that we believe is going to be the best big leaguer in the end and hopefully we’re filled with 20 of them come July 11 through the 13th,” Barber said.
The first round of the 2021 MLB draft is scheduled for Sunday, July 11 at 7 pm ET.
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