The Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation heading into the 2024 season seems to be set, barring any trades or injuries. Heading into Spring Training last year, the talk amongst the front office, the media, and the fans was top prospect Andrew Painter potentially making the Opening Day roster. That was derailed when Painter suffered a UCL injury and ultimately had to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair his throwing elbow.
Through all of that, the Phillies' No. 2 overall prospect, Mick Abel, has been waiting in the wings. Now, as spring awaits, do the Phillies have any plans to inject Abel into the rotation this season? Well, the answer is not as simple as yes or no. Dave Dombrowski told reporters that the pitching prospect would not be making a play for the rotation out of Spring Training, but he didn't rule out potential contributions later in the year.
None of that should come as a surprise, seeing as the Phillies' rotation seems to be set. The club re-signed Aaron Nola to a seven-year deal this offseason. Zack Wheeler, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker, and Cristopher Sánchez are all returning in 2024. The team seems content with this staff moving into the upcoming season.
There's still a lot of time between now and Opening Day, so the club could acquire a starter via trade or free agent signing — unlikely at this point, given the market — or a current starter could deal with an injury.
Even if that were the case, Abel getting the nod early on seems unlikely. While he showed flashes of promise last season and even represented the Phillies in the All-Star Futures Game in July, he still has some progress to make before he's ready for the Major Leagues.
In 23 minor league starts — 22 for Double-A Reading and one for Triple-A Lehigh Valley — in 2023, the 21-year-old posted a 4.37 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. The ERA was inflated by a handful of bad games. The right-hander had some impressive outings as well. In his second to last start with Reading, Abel pitched six shutout innings and struck out seven hitters while allowing just three baserunners.
The biggest area in which Abel must improve is his command. Last season, his walk rate was over five batters per nine innings. His above-average strikeout rate can really be an asset if the 2020 first-round pick can limit the number of free passes he issues. Dombrowski lauded Abel's talent level and said that he has seen players in the past find something mid-season.
As of now, the Phillies are in a good spot with their rotation. There's no pressure on Abel to make the roster or help the big league club this season. If he takes the next step, however, the Phillies' brass will have some decisions to make. If it gets to that point, no one will complain about too much starting pitching.