A Conversation With Philadelphia Phillies Pitching Prospect Mick Abel

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mick Abel has a classic starter profile and a high ceiling. No. 20 on our recently-released 2022 Top 100 Prospects list, and No. 1 on our Philadelphia Phillies Top Prospects list, the 20-year-old right-hander features a four-seam fastball and a diving slider, plus offerings that he augments with a changeup and a curveball. Drafted 15th overall in 2019 out of a Beaverton, Oregon high school, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound hurler is, in the words of our prospect team, “a prototypical power pitching prospect with huge arm strength, a plus breaking ball, and the frame [to potentially grow into] a No. 1 or 2 starter.”

Abel discussed his repertoire, and his early-career development, over the phone last week.

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David Laurila: How much have you learned about your pitches since signing with the Phillies?

Mick Abel: “I think I had a really good sense coming in, with how I was brought up with Kevin Gunderson back home. He was sharing the analytical side a lot better than a lot of kids would get from their pitching coaches. But I’ve definitely learned a lot. I’ve learned about things like seam-shifted wake, which is something I’ve asked about a lot.

“As far as my data goes, I haven’t tried to do too many crazy things with it. I know that I’ve got the stuff. It’s more so, ‘How am I going to maintain that, and not deviate too far off of what my normal numbers are?’”

Laurila: That said, have you looked to change any of your pitch characteristics?

Abel: “Yeah. Going into instructs of 2020, I knew… my pitching coach back home and I knew that my fastball spin efficiency probably wasn’t as high as we’d like it to be. That was more signified by kind of a random cutting action I’d sometimes get on fastballs in on lefties — fastballs glove-side. We noticed that the spin efficiency was anywhere between 83 and 87, sometimes even on arm-side fastballs. So, that’s one thing we… not necessarily hammered in on during instructs, but we definitely tried to increase the spin efficiency on my four-seam fastball. That came from throwing a CleanFuego during catch play — just getting good feels from that — and we also played with a new grip, with my fingers a little closer together. I’m also on the other side of the seam from where I had been, so that my fingers will come off the ball at the same time. I’ve become very comfortable with that and we’ve seen really good spin-efficiency numbers ever since.”

Laurila: Can you elaborate on “other side of the seam”?

Abel: “It’s more like my middle finger is oriented on a higher seam. We use a lot of slow-motion data capture — slow-motion video capture stuff — like Edgertronic. We also use the Rapsodo Insight, back home. That’s really helped us figure out where I need to put my fingers on the ball. My middle finger is probably a centimeter longer — maybe less than that — than my index finger. So really, it was just trying to find a good spot on the ball where I felt comfortable, and we went from there.”

Laurila: And the ride on your four-seam has increased…

Abel: “It’s a lot more consistent. I haven’t really cut anything for a long time now, and yeah, it definitely gets a little bit more ride, a little bit more carry toward the plate.”

Laurila: Where is your velocity?

Abel: “It’s about 94-96 [mph]. Something like that. But I don’t care too much about velo right now, because I know that I can get guys out with it. At the same time, I’m trying to focus on the movement, and making sure that I’m staying consistent with it. All that jazz.”

Laurila: Do you consider your fastball your best pitch?

Abel: “I’d like to, but I think it’s my slider. I’ve always been confident in it, although I did have some trouble with it last year [because of] some experimental curveball grips and being on the same seam — the same exact spot — with a little different grip and a little different comfortability. But I’ve pretty much dialed in to the point now where I’m pinpointing it, and am able to manipulate shape. I pretty much understand what it’s going to do every time it leaves my hand.”

Laurila: Is it cutter-ish, or more depth-ier?

Abel: “It’s definitely depth-ier. My goal with it is always to have somewhat of a lower spin efficiency, because the gyro degree affects how the baseball goes down. The less spin efficiency, the more gravity is going to be affecting the ball, so if it’s anywhere between 1% and 15% spin efficiency, I know that I’m going to get a little bit more depth, as opposed to sweep. If I’m really trying to hammer an outside corner… I’m going to maybe try to kind of poke and prod it out there a little bit more.”

Laurila: How hard you throw your slider?

Abel: “Around 85-86.”

Laurila: Are you trying to miss bats? Not just with your slider, but in general?

Abel: “I’d say that with all pitches, you’d like to miss bats. For me, that’s probably the fastball the most, just because I know it has that ride, that life, up in zone. At the same time, you’re trying to put it in the zone. Not to say I’ve figured out pitching or anything, but when I’m on the mound, the biggest thing I have in my head is to fill up the zone. I want to be competitive, and be on the attack. If they swing and miss, they swing and miss.”

Laurila: How hard is your curveball, and would you say that it’s your fourth-best pitch?

Abel: “It’s anywhere from 78 to 82 [mph], and yeah, I’d say that it is.”

Laurila: Young pitchers are often asked to temporarily shelve one of their breaking balls in order to better focus on the other. How has the organization approached that subject with you?

Abel: “We talked about it last year, but it wasn’t really a huge focus for me. I have the slider, and the curveball was in my back pocket just to drop in for strikes. I also knew that I could get swings and misses on my slider, and then be able to attack the zone with the curveball a little bit more.”

Laurila: What can you tell me about your changeup?

Abel: “I want to attack guys with it. Last year, I didn’t do as good of a job attacking righties with my changeup, and this year, I’m going to try to implement that a little bit more, as well as hone in on the command.”

Laurila: What is the grip?

Abel: “Look up, ‘Max Scherzer changeup grip’ on YouTube. That’s the grip. I found it in high school.”

Laurila: Given the quality of your other pitches, you probably didn’t need a good changeup against high school hitters…

Abel: “I think that was kind of an issue. Not to discredit high school baseball, but if you have a low-90s fastball and a banging off-speed, you’re tough to hit as it is. If you’re going to throw a changeup, guys might close their eyes, swing, and hit a bomb. So yeah, it definitely wasn’t something I necessarily needed, because their bats were already slow enough. If I needed to throw it, I needed to throw it — especially against the more-advanced hitters — but most of the time, I wouldn’t really throw it. I could just go after guys with my other pitches. [Pro ball] is a little different.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Bruce Schwindtmember
4 months ago

Great article. Abel really is quite knowledgeable about pitching mechanics, particularly for someone so young. It will be fun to watch his progress this year