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Phillies' top healthy pitching prospect: ‘That's my goal this year, get to the bigs'

Phillies' top healthy pitching prospect: ‘That's my goal this year, get to the bigs' originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Mick Abel, the Phillies' top healthy pitching prospect, is tentatively set to start Saturday at BayCare Ballpark against the Twins. The game is at 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

The 22-year-old right-hander impressed in an inning of relief Sunday, striking out two Yankees in a 1-2-3 inning. He threw nine fastballs and averaged a tick under 96 mph.

"I think the biggest thing is everything felt under control for how early it is," he said after that appearance. "It helps me with confidence going into the rest of spring training."

Abel was listed on the Phillies' game notes Friday morning as the probable starter Saturday, but there's an illness going around the clubhouse so it's TBD, manager Rob Thomson said after his team tied the Marlins.

Abel pitched in two big-league spring training games last year, going one inning on March 3 and two innings on March 18. One of the reasons teams like to include prospects nearing the majors in camp is to help acclimate them to life in a big-league clubhouse. Even for a former first-round pick, there are some nerves entering a clubhouse for the first time with guys like Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto, Zack Wheeler and all the rest. Abel, Griff McGarry and top prospect Andrew Painter (now rehabbing Tommy John surgery) all had that brief experience last spring.

"It's a mentality type of thing. I understand where I'm at now," Abel said. "Like, OK, I'm in a locker room with a lot of cool names but it's like, these guys are going to be my future teammates so I can't really think, 'Oh my gosh, I'm up here with them?' It's 'No, I'm up here with them.'

"The game was definitely sped up a little bit for me. Now I've got my game under my control and I know how to hold the reins, which way I need to go and which way I don't need to go."

Abel started 23 games last season — 22 with Double A Reading, one with Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 5-6 with a 4.13 ERA in 113⅓ innings, striking out 132 but walking 65. He's said several times in camp that his focus is reducing his walk rate. He walked 5.2 batters per nine innings in 2023, a rate he'd like to cut in half.

"The biggest thing is just trusting myself and attacking the zone," he said. "I learned a lot from (my walk-free) outings last year but there wasn't one thing that really stuck out other than my mentality. Being able to work on that at the end of the season and in the offseason, that was really big for me. I'm just hoping to keep on building off of those."

If he can, maybe he finds his way up to Philadelphia by the end of the season. He's not currently on the 40-man roster, but the Phillies have shown in recent years that they won't hesitate to promote a player if/when it's deserved. They were ready to insert a 20-year-old Painter into their rotation a year ago before his elbow injury, and they promoted Orion Kerkering five times from Single A to the majors in 2023.

"Oh yeah," Abel said. "That's my ultimate goal this year, get to the big leagues. Obviously, lowering my walk rate, lowering the walks per nine is another thing. But I want to compete in the bigs."