DAVID, PANAMA - AUGUST 19: Andrew Painter #24 of United States pitches in the 2nd inning during the final match of WSBC U-15 World Cup Super Round at Estadio Kenny Serracin on August 19, 2018 in David, Panama. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Andrew Painter could accomplish something pretty remarkable. He is heading into Spring Training with a legit chance to crack the Phillies roster. But the thing is, he is only 19 years old. He turns 20 on April 10th. But, if he does crack the roster out of Spring Training, that would leave 10 Phillies games before his 20th Birthday. There is a legitimate chance Painter makes his Major League debut before he turns 20.

The concept of putting a 19-year-old on the mound to face Major League hitters sounds absurd. But that is how good of a prospect this kid is. Painter dominated the Minor Leagues last year. 3 Levels of it. He started the year in Low A. Those hitters had no chance against him. In 9 starts he gave up just 17 hits. So they moved him up to High A. And the results there were not much different. He had an ERA under 1.00 across 8 starts. So they finally promoted him to AA. But his ERA got a bit inflated there. It went all the way up to 2.54. Across 26 starts at 3 levels he had a 1.56 ERA. In 103.2 innings, he struck out 155 batters.

Yea, Painter is pretty good. He isn’t getting this chance to make the roster because the Phillies are desperate. Painter is getting this chance because he earned it. The Phillies haven’t seen a prospect this good in a long time.

So what is the history of 19-year-old pitchers in the MLB? Is what the Phillies are doing smart, or does history say they are making a mistake? Let’s look at 9 other pitchers who made their debut before they turned 20, and how their careers panned out after making such an early debut.

 

  • Felix Hernandez (19 years, 118 days old)

    Felix Hernandez made his MLB Debut on August 4, 2005. He did not celebrate his 20th Birthday until April 8th the following year. If you have paid attention to the past couple of decades in the MLB, you would know that it turned out pretty well for Felix. He went on to pitch 15 seasons with the Mariners. In that time he threw 6 200 strikeout seasons, led the league with the lowest ERA twice, won a Cy Young, and will one day probably walk into the Hall of Fame.

    In that rookie season, 19-year-old Feliz Hernandez threw 84.1 innings and pitched to an ERA of 2.67. Feliz was not overmatched. He took a bit of a step back in his sophomore season. But he bounced back to have a Hall of Fame Caliber career and was among the best pitchers in Baseball for a decade-long stretch.

  • Dwight Gooden (19 years, 143 days)

    Doc Gooden did not disappoint as a 19-year-old pitching in the Major Leagues. In his MLB debut, he held the Astros to 1 run across 5 innings and racked up 5 strikeouts. He went on to start 31 games that season, had an ERA of 2.60, won 17 games, and won rookie of the year. It is hard to ask a teenager to do much more than that. Gooden followed that up the following year by winning the Cy Young with an ERA of 1.53 over 276.2 innings. It was insane what this guy was doing as a 19 and 20-year-old.

    He gave the Mets 9 dominant seasons. But then his career was derailed by drug and alcohol abuse. He missed an entire season after being suspended. When he returned in a Yankees uniform he was never quite the same. But there is no denying how fantastic he was at the start of his career. Doc Gooden was on track to be one of the best pitchers of All-Time.

  • Babe Ruth (19 years, 155 days)

    Go back over 100 years, and you could have seen a 19-year-old Babe Ruth make his MLB debut. Of course, we know him better now as one of the best hitters of all time. But his MLB debut came with the Red Sox on the mound. And he held up pretty well. He gave up 3 runs over 7 innings. The Red Sox made the poor choice of selling him to the Yankees and regretted it for 90 years until that curse was finally broken and they won a World Series for the first time since they got rid of Babe Ruth.

    Despite being more known for his Bat, Babe was no slouch on the mound either in his career. In those 6 seasons with the Red Sox he had an ERA of 2.19 in 143 starts.

  • Julio Urias (19 years, 9 months and 15 days old)

    The most recent example of a 19-year-old pitching in the Majors is Julio Urias with the Dodgers. Urias, at just 19, was in the middle of a dominant stretch in the minors. He threw 27 straight scoreless innings and had an ERA of 1.10. His debut did not go great though. He got chased after 3 innings and gave up 3 runs. But the rest of his rookie season went pretty well. He finished with a 3.39 ERA across 15 starts.

    Unfortunately, his next few years were a loss due to injuries. But when he finally got back on the mound in the MLB, he picked up where he left off. Now 25, Urias has a career ERA of 2.82, and he finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young Race last year. Urias is panning out to be a pretty damn good Pitcher at this level.

  • David Clyde (18 years, 66 days)

    Of course, not every teen phenom worked out. David Clyde represents a cautionary tale for bringing up a pitcher too soon. The Rangers picked him no 1 overall. Just 20 days after pitching in a high school game, he was on the mound pitching for the Rangers. What is important to understand about the Rangers at the time, was they had a very hard time getting butts in seats. But fans came out to see Clyde pitch. And in his first start, he put on a show. He pitched 5 innings of 1 run ball, struck out 8 guys, and won.

    There was no putting anything back in Pandora’s Box after that. The Rangers saw a way to sell tickets. The original plan was to give him a taste of the Majors, before sending him down. But he never got sent down. And unfortunately, things started to unravel for him. He finished the season with an ERA over 5. And he never quite set things right. He started his career as an 18-year-old and was out of the league before he turned 25.

    The context here though, is the Rangers had no real plan for him. This wasn’t a well-thought-out plan to develop him. They threw Clyde to the wolves because he could sell tickets. That does not seem to be the case with Painter. The Phillies have thought this out. They employ a pitching coach that has known and worked with Painter for years. If he does end up on the Major League roster, it will be because he earned it, not because the Phillies are desperate.

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