The Athletic Shafts Andrew Painter: #3 Pitching Prospect in Baseball?!
It’s that time of year. There’s no actual baseball being played, so everyone and their mother is doing prospect rankings. Usually, for the Phillies, prospect rankings are a time to cry and lament the bleak future of the franchise. But not this year!
Not only are we the reigning National League champs, but we also have one of the top prospects in the sport! That means we get to shake our fists in outrage when our guy gets absolutely screwed by merely being called a top-10 prospect instead of a top-5. Ah. Winning feels good.
As I’ve alluded to, Keith Law has released the Athletic’s top-100 prospect rankings. And the screw job he pulled on Andrew Painter is so egregious that Vince McMahon is currently taking notes to pull a sequel to the Montreal Screw Job.
He ranked Andrew Painter #13 among all prospects. That isn’t egregious because it all depends on how you value pitching prospects. Your mileage can vary, and so can Keith Law’s. The real problem here is… there were two pitchers ranked ahead of him. Somehow.
Was it a legacy vote for Grayson Rodriguez? Actually, no. Grayson was ranked #4. The #1 pitching prospect, according to Keith Law, was Eury Perez.
So, what does Perez do that separates him from Andrew Painter? Well, I have no idea. And apparently, neither does Keith Law. This is what he wrote in reference to Painter’s ranking.
“His delivery is good, and he repeats it well, but we’ve seen way too many guys like him get hurt on their way to the majors to ignore the possibility here. If your crystal ball says he’ll stay healthy, he’s a top-10 prospect in baseball and might have a case to be in the top 6.”
I’m sorry, what?!
Andrew Painter has no history of injury. He spent no time being injured last year despite going for over 100 innings in his first season of professional baseball, a season in which he dominated three levels of MiLB from bell to bell.
Andrew Painter isn’t human
And yet, because he is tall and other tall people have gotten hurt in the past, he is also going to get hurt so we are going to actively screw him? Are we serious right now?
Eury Perez was ranked #10 on his list. So in Keith Law’s own words, he is either as good or better than Perez, but because of hypothetical injury concerns… he’s gonna shaft Painter.
This is not a serious ranking. It’s just not. And in a horrific turn of events, it somehow gets worse than this! This is, in part, what Law had to say about Perez.
“Pitchers this tall do not have a great track record of health, and Pérez himself has missed time in the last two years, getting shut down for about five weeks in August and September last year due to “arm fatigue,” so there is real risk here around his durability. If he just stays healthy, though, he has No. 1 starter upside. There is no one in the minors with this kind of stuff, deception, and ability to throw strikes.“
Yes, you read that correctly. Perez, who is an inch taller than Painter, also has injury concerns. In fact, his injury concerns are actually well-founded because he ACTUALLY got injured! Unlike Andrew Painter, Perez has actually been shut down for weeks at a time due to health concerns.
But Law is willing to put all that to the side, because he believes in Perez’s talent and he sees the upside. So do I. I see the talent, and I agree that he has No. 1 starter upside. He’s a future Ace. But there is one thing Law said which is patently wrong.
“No one in the minors with this kind of stuff, deception, and ability to throw strikes.”
Yes, there is. Andrew Painter.
The low slot in Perez’s delivery might make the ball marginally more difficult for hitters to see than Painter’s more conventional delivery. I wouldn’t even write home about that edge in deception, because Painter’s anomalous whiff rates are a pretty good indicator that he’s deceptive too!
Their stuff is remarkably similar. The only real difference is that Perez’s best secondary is a changeup, while Andrew Painter’s is his slider (or his curveball.)
The fact that I don’t even fully know Andrew Painter’s best secondary is a pretty great indication he’s a half step ahead of Perez in the “stuff” category. But, it’s marginal in both directions.
Where Andrew Painter really separates himself is his command.
According to Law, in this very same article, Perez does throw strikes very well… but he doesn’t have an advanced ability to truly place balls where he wants them. He throws strikes and trusts his stuff, as he should. But pinpoint precision isn’t exactly his calling card.
It is absolutely Andrew Painter’s calling card, whose command has been given 70 grades (on a scale of 80) by most scouts. Anything above 50 is average. For those not familiar with the terminology, suffice it to say that Painter’s command isn’t just good. It’s elite.
The more accurate sentence is this: “There’s one in the minors with Painter’s combination of stuff, deception, and pinpoint command.”
So, I just thoroughly dismantled the idea that Eury Perez is better than Painter. Of course, that’s no insult to Perez, who solidly projects to be a future Ace. It’s simply that no pitching prospect is better than Andrew Painter.
But somehow, Keith Law says Kyle Harrison is!
I don’t know where he got that idea. He attempted to explain it, but the explanation just didn’t land with me. Maybe it’ll fare better with you, dear reader:
“Harrison ranked second in minor-league baseball in strikeouts in 2022, a year after he finished ninth while throwing just 98 innings on the season, and he does it with huge stuff and deception and pretty good feel. He’s 92-94 mph, touching 97, with a plus slider at 80-82, showing good shape to the pitch, with the depth of a curveball but the sharpness of a power slider. He has a changeup that flashes average with good bottom, but uses his slider in changeup counts even to right-handers. Harrison has a very deceptive delivery, with a low three-quarter slot and an arm action that keeps the ball behind his body for a long time, although he struggles with timing and his arm can be late relative to his front leg, a potential red flag for future injuries. If he stays healthy, which he has so far in pro ball, this is No. 1 starter stuff, and while it’s not Chris Sale’s body or arm swing, there are definitely enough similarities to think that’s Harrison’s ceiling.“
I’m getting the sense that this guy really values unorthodox deliveries. For my money, that’s long been an overrated part of a pitcher’s effectiveness. There’s some utility to it. Hitters often follow the ball through a pitcher’s delivery. But that’s mostly to focus their eyes.
The hitter’s decision point comes after the pitcher’s delivery. Hitters make swing decisions in the moments after the ball leaves the pitcher’s hands. They’re not getting fooled by funky arm slots, as fun as they may be to watch. They’re getting fooled by the way some pitches mimic each other in trajectory very early in the ball’s path.
The concept is called tunneling in the pitching world. The idea of making two or more pitches follow the same tunnel to deceive hitters at the point of the swing decision.
Andrew Painter is already extremely proficient in the craft of tunneling, and he’ll only get better with age. It’s the ultimate deception, and he’s going to be a master of it at a very young age. It’s what makes him so special.
To close, let me just reiterate this point one more time: the goal of this article is not to crap all over other top pitching prospects. I have no interest in doing that. It’s a really great crop of young, talented arms in the MiLB.
But at the head of that billing is Andrew Painter. As far as I see it, there shouldn’t even be much debate on the subject. Not because other pitchers aren’t good. Perez, Harrison, and Rodriguez are all fantastic.
But because Andrew Painter is simply that good. He’s special. Talents like this don’t just come around every year.
After a decade of prospect troubles delaying a rebuild, the Phillies have a gem on their hands. That is the real point of every word I’ve dedicated to this piece.