The best high school pitcher in the 2021 draft class is Calvary Christian Academy right-hander Andrew Painter. In a class of prep arms generally lacking polish, Painter stands out for his advanced and robust arsenal on the mound.
The 2021 draft class is full of kids that can really throw it and really spin it. That said, very few of those arms possess the track record of command, durability, and success that Painter does.
At 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, the Pompano Beach, Florida native is already an imposing presence on the mound. He’s got long levers, a high waist, and a frame that suggests more good weight is to come. He comes at hitters from a low 3/4 arm-slot that he swings out wide to create tough angles for guys in the box.
Where I’d like to see Painter continue to improve is the utilization and efficiency of his lower half, including working to extend a little bit further down the mound. He’s got a big, long body. Might as well work to use as much of it as you can to create deception and take some pressure off the upper body/arm.
Despite his size, Painter does an exceptional job of repeating his delivery and his mechanics, especially for a pitcher of his age. The ability of the body and levers to work in unison is a tough ask for guys Painter’s size, but he’s shown the innate ability to do so, That quality helps him fill up the zone.
Before we speak on Painter’s pitches, I wanted to do a deep-dive into the risk-reward in drafting the “best” prep pitcher available. Every team is going to evaluate talent differently, but for this exercise, we’ll look at the first prep arm off the board from 2000 to 2016 -- everyone in this bracket has been Rule 5 eligible to this point.
Save one Clayton Kershaw, this has, uh, not gone too great. Gavin Floyd was a steady performer for 13 years at the big league level, although he only amassed one season over 4 fWAR. Jameson Taillon is still a story of what-could-have-been. He’s currently recovering from his second Tommy John Surgery. That said, when he’s pitched, he’s been quite good.
Dylan Bundy was said by many scouts to be one of the greatest high school pitchers they’d ever seen. He’s had a solid, albeit unspectacular career. 2017 has thus far been his piece de resistance, and even that only culminated in 2.7 fWAR. The Max Fried’s and Ian Anderson’s of this list still have to write their stories.
Point is, high school pitchers are often labeled as the most volatile or combustible profiles in the draft. They haven’t thrown extended innings. Nobody truly knows how the body is going to hold up to the rigors of professional pitching.
I’ve gone on record saying Mick Abel is one of the best high school pitchers I’ve ever seen pitch. He ended up getting selected no. 15 overall by the Phillies in 2020, but I was in favor of grabbing him for an under-slot deal at no. 6.
I’m not against selecting prep arms in the first round, but you have to have complete and total confidence and conviction in what you’re doing.
Bringing this back to Painter, there’s obvious reason to believe in the package. The arsenal is very good and he’s already throwing a ton of strikes. You can’t diminish the injury risk, but you’re working with clay that already has the ability to fill up the zone. That important.
Painter also has some finer qualities about his game that should entice big league ball clubs. Despite his size, he’s shown the ability to change up his tempo and cadence on the mound to keep hitters off-balance. When doing so, he’s still thrown strikes and has varied up the pitch selection. The ‘feel’ for pitching and throwing strikes is there. That shouldn’t be understated.
TOOLS (Future Value)
Painter has a very good fastball. The heater generally lives in the 92-95 range, touching 97 this summer in shorter outings. He’s shown the ability to cut the ball, as well as run it in on righties hands. It’s a heavier fastball, sinking as it approaches the zone.
Most impressive is Painter’s ability to dot all four quadrants of the zone. He shown he can conformably pitch inside to righties, as well as work away from dangerous hitters. Because of it’s shape, his fastball doesn’t play great at the top of the zone, though he’s shown the ability to throw it up there, and against his current level of competition it’s been an out-pitch.
Painter’s ability to get ahead in counts and induce ground balls with his heater will play at the next level. At this point it’s a question where the pitch will settle in. My bet is 93-97, maybe touching 98 on occasion, though time will tell.
No need to mince words here: Painter might have the best changeup in the 2021 prep class. He’s shown a great feel for the pitch and throws it with conviction and command.
Most of his changeups hover in the 1700-1800rpm range, a good figure to kill lift and create depth. It’s a low-80s offering that really fades to lefties and works well into the back foot on right-handed hitters.
Painter hasn’t deployed the changeup all too often this summer. His fastball and two breaking balls have been the showcase pieces, all of which have been impressive. All that being said, Painter’s past performances showing his ability to throw the changeup will do well for him come draft day.
Maybe the most impressive part of Painter’s slider is his willingness to throw it early in counts, and throw it for strikes. He’s plenty comfortable controlling the pitch in the strike zone, though he can get in trouble leaving the pitch up. Generally when Painter misses up, he really gets under the ball and throws a frisbee. Consistency putting the ball where it needs to be will be important. The cement mixers will get your in trouble in pro ball.
That said, when it’s right, it’s pretty darn effective, especially playing off his fastball. Here’s Painter completely fooling blue-chipper Jordan Lawlar.
Painter’s slider demonstrates two-plane break and generally sits 81-83. He can spin it too, coming close to 2600rpm on most of his sliders. There’s a lot to like about the future of his breaking ball. Consistency will be key.
Personally, I’m a bigger fan of Painter’s slider than the curveball as currently constructed. The latter is a firm, power-breaker usually 78-80 with pretty good depth.
Like the slider, consistency will be a huge part of his development moving forward. Painter doesn’t rip through the curveball like the slider, as it only averages close to 2450rpms. That’s still a plenty healthy number.
Painter mirrors his arm action with all his pitches really well, though the arm does have a tendency to slow down a tick on the curve at times.
Finally, for what it’s worth, the slider will play better off the heavy fastball than the curveball will, but having the full assortment of bullets in the chamber will only help Painter keep hitters off balance.
Andrew Painter is an incredibly talented pitcher with a premium body and polish not generally found in arms his age. He’s got every pitch necessary to be a big-time starting pitcher at the next level. The velocity and command are both present, so cleaning up the edges will be huge in his development. The whole package has the potential to move quickly through an organization.
There’s inherent risk in selecting a high school pitcher with your first pick of any draft, and that’s an aspect of Painter that Seattle, or any team for that matter, must weigh when considering his name in July.
Still, it’s hard to argue he’s not the best prep arm in this class, and it might be by a reasonably comfortable margin.