Griff McGary, Mick Abel and Andrew Painter are weeks away from their goal of staying healthy for a full minor league season.
They have increased their innings to the point where they are approaching 100 innings for the first time.
They are in various stages of perfecting their sliders.
They did much of their growing up together.
“It was awesome,” Abel said. “They are two of my best friends. I don’t think any of us could have asked for a better script in terms of where we are and the timing of it.”
Painter, 19; Abel, 21, and McGary, 23, are the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 prospects in the Phillies’ system.
Their friendship is as special as their talents.
“We have so many connections, so many similarities,” Painter said. “We hang out a lot, talk a lot.”
From Clearwater to the Jersey Shore to Reading to the Lehigh Valley, Phillies fans have seen some of the best pitchers the organization has to offer this season.
They did not disappoint.
McGary, a 2021 fifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia, has a 2.86 ERA and .139 batting average against the last two months at Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Abel, the 15th pick in 2020, has a .227 average in 99 innings in 21 starts.
Painter, the 13th overall pick in 2021, has been electric: 1.24 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 141 strikeouts (24 walks) in 94 2/3 innings in 20 starts.
They are modest and hardworking, determined and talented. They are polished but have much higher ceilings.
“Those are three special talents that you don’t usually see,” Reading pitching coach Matt Hockenberry said. “… It was fun. The most important thing for me is to stay out of their way, to be attuned to what they need, not to try to come in and figure out more stuff.”
The trio has come a long way in a short time.
Abel was a minor leaguer, throwing a curveball like a knuckleball because his arm couldn’t wrap around a baseball.
Painter immortalized the coordination needed to be a major league pitcher long before he reached 6-foot-7, playing basketball throughout his youth.
McGary, who flipped to the pros when the Rangers selected him in the 31st round, saw his competitiveness and mechanics develop at the University of Virginia.
They have long been fond of baseball. They put a lot of sweat and energy into the details away from the limelight to be in the position every minor leaguer wants.
“It sounds bad,” Hockenberry said, “I don’t think I should say this, but any scout, any person in the office can go through and get a checklist of what [a player] can do and start checking things [for these three]. Then, wow, you have something special.
“I think all three are doing a great job of preparation. All three individually are so focused on preparing for the next tour in their careers that the thought never occurs to them, “Where will I be in October?” Where will I be spring training next year?”
“Their approach is to prepare for today, do your best today, and then tomorrow will come when it comes. And they will be ready for it when tomorrow comes.”
When Painter was promoted to Jersey Shore’s top class in mid-June, he found Abel and McGarry and peppered them with questions.
During games, they didn’t rush, the trio talked about approach, opposing hitters’ tendencies, everything they see on the field.
After one quit, the other two reflected on what had happened in that game. Computer generated statistics are important, but personal experience trumps all.
It is invaluable to know that the information you are receiving is accurate.
“We trust each other,” Abel said. “We can ask each other anything at any time and know we’ll get an honest answer. We know we’re getting a pretty reasonable response in terms of baseball stuff.
“We all have one goal. We want to do it together. Everyone’s route will be different, but we’re all about getting there [to the major leagues].”
McGarry’s exposure to the Triple A hitters was instructive. He got two quick outs Wednesday against Worcester before giving up a walk and back-to-back doubles. He then allowed a solo home run in his second inning of his second appearance in the bullpen this season after 19 starts.
The right-hander made no excuses.
“All I can really do is make the most of my next outing,” he said. “That’s all I focus on. Yesterday ended. I’m ready for next time.”
Good walk or not, all three used the same approach. It’s the same with every promotion and every story written about them, as the Phillies struggle to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011 at a time when they’re short on pitchers.
Serantani Dominguez and Zach Eflin performed at a Lehigh Valley rehab facility this week. Zach Wheeler is getting closer to returning to the rotation.
Meanwhile, David Robertson has struggled in back-to-back outings after being shut down following his return to the organization at the trade deadline. And Ranger Suarez hasn’t been as reliable as he was earlier this season and into 2021.
Despite all of this, this trio of prospects believe that staying grounded is the only thing that makes sense to them.
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They see, read and hear outside noise and then move on.
“Of course, you can’t block it completely,” Painter said. “You will see it. It’s fun to watch. We have two weeks left at this point. The season is not over yet. You should finish the year strong.
“Yes, it’s cool to look at it, to see progress. You give yourself a day, that night [after a good start]. The next day begins a new week. Everything that happened at the last start is in the past. You should get back to work. I have to keep my eyes in front of me.”
Anyone who saw Painter, Abel and McGarry perform found something to admire. Fans, front office staff, pitching coaches and teammates.
This trio is happy with what they have done so far. Now the only thing that matters is what they have to do to live up to their expectations.
It will also be interesting to watch.
Morning Call reporter Tom Hausnick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or firstname.lastname@example.org