Andrew Painter among 22 non-guards invited to Phillies spring training

Andrew Painter’s long-awaited pursuit of the Phillies’ fifth-starter job has gotten off to an unofficial start.

Painter, who was recently ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in the sport, will command a group of 21 non-roster invitees to spring training, the Phillies announced Tuesday. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to begin training at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 16.

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Pitching prospects Mick Abel and Griff McGarry will also be among the players not on the 40-man roster but will attend major league camp. Other notable invitees include infielder Scott Kingery and reliever Mark Appel, the former No. 1 overall pick, who is re-signing with the Phillies as a minor-league free agent.

But all eyes will be on Painter. The Phillies intend to hold a spring training competition for the final spot in the starting rotation, and the 19-year-old phenom is a top contender to win the job from a field that includes left-handers Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sánchez. A senior team official said last month that he “will be shocked” if Painter “isn’t our No. 5 starter coming out of spring training.”

Painter, the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft, dominated three levels of the minors last season, finishing with Double-A reading and finishing with a 1.56 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 103⅔ innings overall. Manager Rob Thomson has not actually seen him pitch in a game, but received a steady stream of reports throughout the year from the player development staff.

“You don’t even have to ask. They just tell you how good this guy is and the makeup and the intangibles and the athleticism, all that,” Thomson said. “And I’ve seen a little bit of tape, and it’s real.”

Now we have to be careful and make sure we don’t rush him too soon, don’t overexert him. It’s a different level of excitement and anxiety from double A to spring training in the big leagues and then regular season in the big leagues. Completely different. So we’ll see how that works out.”

Abel and McGarry also figure to compete for the No. 5 starting job, but Painter is believed to be the closest to the bigs. If Painter makes his debut before his birthday on April 20, he would be the first 19-year-old pitcher to start a game in the majors since Julio Urías for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. The Phillies have not had a 19-year-old starting pitcher since Mark Davis in 1980.

»READ MORE: Phillies prospect rankings: Farm system heavy on hitting, lacks major league-ready bats

The Phillies signed right-handers Jon Duplantier, Louis Head, Jake Jewell and Jeremy Walker, left-hander Ben Bowden, catchers John Hicks and Max McDowell, and infielders Jim Haley, Vimael Machín and Weston Wilson to minor league contracts and invited them to spring training. Other non-roster invitees include relievers Francisco Morales, McKinley Moore and Billy Sullivan, catcher Vito Friscia and infielder Will Toffey.

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