2020 MLB draft: Phillies select 'tantalizing' Oregon high school pitcher Mick Abel in first round

2020 MLB draft: Phillies select 'tantalizing' Oregon high school pitcher Mick Abel in first round

The Phillies landed one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s draft when they selected right-handed pitcher Mick Abel with the 15th pick on Wednesday night.

Abel, 18, comes out of Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. He is 6-5 and 198 pounds with room to get stronger.

Baseball America says Abel possesses “a tantalizing combination of present stuff, future projection and pitchability.” Abel’s fastball ranges from 94 to 97 mph, with room to grow, and his slider and curveball are both considered plus pitches. 

"Our scouts were in unanimous agreement, he's a potential future workhorse and dominating presence at the top of a rotation," first-year Phillies scouting director Brian Barber said Wednesday night. "As a person and a player, we're 100 percent sold on him. We like everything about Mick. His projection for the future. The quality of his 'now' stuff. With every projection marker we use, we believe his stuff will improve. We love the delivery and the way the arm works."

There is always risk in taking high school pitchers and there’s more than ever this year. Abel dazzled on the showcase circuit last summer but did not throw a competitive pitch this spring because of the COVID shutdown. Phillies scouts visited with Abel in person in January and watched his indoor workouts.

Though he is committed to Oregon State, Abel is expected to sign.

He described his repertoire as a four-pitch mix: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball and slider.

"The best offspeed is my slider, I feel like I can throw it in any count in any quadrant," Abel said. "Really manipulate it to give it a slurvier shape or tighten it up with more velocity."

Abel drew some lofty comparisons from draft analysts.

"I comped him to Justin Verlander, so that tells you how much I liked him," former Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd said on MLB Network.

"It's a plus fastball, he commands it, a wipeout slider and, for me, I don't see max effort at all in the delivery. He does it easy. Developing changeup and he's got two plus pitches right now with plus command of them. This guy, for me, is the best-looking high school pitcher in this draft."

Another analyst compared Abel to Stephen Strasburg. 

"To be honest, I don't do comparisons a whole lot. But I wouldn't mind it if those two that were mentioned worked out," Barber said when asked about those two superstar comps. "He has four pitches that are quality and can get big-league hitters out."

Abel is the first pitcher taken by the Phillies in the first round since Aaron Nola in 2014. The club had not taken a high school pitcher as a straight first-rounder (non-supplemental round) since 2010 when it selected Jesse Biddle out of Germantown Friends with the 27th overall pick. 

After the initial call from Phillies officials welcoming him to the organization, Abel received a FaceTime call from a number he didn't recognize. He hit accept and saw Bryce Harper's face.

"That was pretty cool," Abel said. "I was like woah, that's Bryce Harper, what the heck?"

The slot value of the 15th overall pick this year is $3.88 million.

The Phillies' next pick is 87th overall in the third round Thursday. The draft resumes Thursday at 5 p.m. with the second round, but the Phils forfeited their second-round selection when they signed Zack Wheeler.

Their remaining picks Thursday are 87th, 116th and 146th.

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Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in.

For now.

The Phillies' big off-season acquisition on Sunday said he was committed to pitching this season, but he left the door open wide enough to back out.

"Yeah, definitely," Wheeler said when asked if he had considered opting out of the season like several other prominent big leaguers have done.

"We just have to see how things are here at the field and at the stadium. I'm happy with what I see so far. But things could change, especially once our baby's born. I always think about what's going on around me. Is it safe? Is it OK? Literally every single day. I have to just ask myself that. I'm going to continue to keep asking myself that every day."

Wheeler's wife, Dominique, is due to give birth to the couple's first child in about three weeks.

That's an anxious time to begin with.

Now, add in a pandemic.


"It's a very difficult decision," Wheeler said. "It's something that is still playing in my head. I have to be very careful here at the field, outside of the field, wherever I go. The baby's and Dominique's health is most important to me. So whatever I can do to make sure they are safe, that is the No. 1 goal for me. Baseball comes after that."

Wheeler has expressed his concerns to team officials, including manager Joe Girardi.

Frankly, every person affiliated with the club has the same concerns about the health and safety of their families.

"We've chit-chatted here and there," Wheeler said. "I think they know what position I'm in. I think we are going to sit down and talk about that. But we haven't done it yet. I've been happy with what's gone on so far here (with health and safety protocols). 

"But, yeah, I'm definitely going to sit down with Joe and whoever else just to reiterate that. I'll let them know how I am feeling. Joe's a family guy. Family comes first to him. That's the first thing he told me when I talked to him on the phone right after I signed. 'Family is first.' I know he recognizes that. He knows the situation I'm in. He loves his kids. He's a good guy. He is one of the reasons why I signed here."

There are a number of players in MLB whose wives are expecting. Mike Trout is one and he has expressed reservations about playing and compromising his family's safety.

Wheeler was asked if he believed MLB should step in and make a blanket decision for players whose wives are pregnant.

"Maybe they could have put that label on guys with pregnant wives. I do believe that," Wheeler said. "I think they did a nice job with everything else. But there are a lot of guys with pregnant wives right now, whether it's later on in the pregnancy, early on in the pregnancy, they are at risk. It's a very serious thing as we all know. Maybe they should have thought about that a little bit more. I don't know. Like I said, I can only worry about myself and do as much as I can personally to protect my wife."

Wheeler signed a five-year, $118 million contract in December.

Players who opt out of the season do not get paid their prorated salaries unless they have an underlying health condition that makes playing too risky.

Baseball-wise, Wheeler is on a good track. During the shutdown, he maintained his throwing program back home in Georgia. He got up to 80 pitches in his bullpen sessions at home and faced hitters in camp on Saturday. With the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Nola — he's throwing at a nearby facility but has not joined the team for official workouts — Wheeler could end up starting the season opener July 23 or 24.

That is, if the virus allows for a season opener. 

And all is well at home.

Wheeler expects to take the permitted three days paternity leave once the baby arrives. Then he will need to go through testing and health protocols before rejoining the team. He estimated that he would miss at least a start, maybe two.

The Phillies are prepared for sudden changes in their pitching rotations. Girardi said he'll have relievers piggybacked with each starter and a five-man starting staff with the backup club in Lehigh Valley.

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COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

The Phillies have four players on the COVID-19 injured list (Hector Neris, Ranger Suarez, Scott Kingery and Tommy Hunter) and three more who have yet to arrive in camp because of coronavirus protocols (Aaron Nola, Adam Haseley and Christian Bethancourt).

We’re already seeing how unsteady and unpredictable this 60-game season will be. Nola is the Phillies’ best starting pitcher and Neris is their best reliever. Kingery is their starting second baseman. Haseley was set to start or split time in center field. Suarez was in the race for the fifth starter’s job.

So much for the Phillies would change without them, and it’s reasonable to expect at least a few of them will miss time early in the season. Phillies lefty Cole Irvin said Saturday he thinks it could take pitchers up to six weeks to return from coronavirus because it would require two weeks of quarantine, then the resumption of throwing, then a few bullpen sessions. The severity of cases varies, but it looks like it will generally cost pitchers more time than position players.

The best hitter in the NL East, Freddie Freeman, is also dealing with COVID-19 and is not feeling well at all right now, according to his wife Chelsea. Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters Saturday "it will be a while 'til we can get him back." It totally changes the Braves’ equation and 2020 chances if their rock is missing for a third of the season.

Will Smith, Atlanta’s top-tier lefty reliever signed to a three-year, $39 million in the offseason, also tested positive. Then on Saturday, Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez opted out of the season, as did their first base coach Eric Young Sr. Four Marlins players tested positive as well.

Yankees All-Star infielder D.J. LeMahieu tested positive.  So did Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Twins slugger Miguel Sano, Padres outfielder Tommy Pham and Indians speedster Delino DeShields Jr. Last week, Charlie Blackmon tested positive. There are at least another dozen known or suspected cases around the league with more, surely, to come.

On Friday, Mike Trout said "Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable" about the season ahead with a pregnant wife.

On Saturday, Dodgers left-hander David Price opted out of the season because of health and family concerns, joining King Felix, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake and Joe Ross. Buster Posey is reportedly mulling the decision too.

Other than that ... decent first weekend of camp?

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