Home Baseball Andrew Painter Threw Five Pitches to Carlos Correa

Andrew Painter Threw Five Pitches to Carlos Correa

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Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes things just come together. On Wednesday, all the cosmic tumblers clicked into place at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida. In the first inning of a spring training game between the Twins and the Phillies, all the big stories of the offseason seemed to collide in one at-bat.

It started with Andrew Painter, the player who has thus far been the talk of spring training. The 19-year-old right-hander ranks fifth on our Top 100 Prospects list. His ascent was so rapid that he wasn’t even on last year’s list (he did make last year’s end-of-season update as a 60 FV), and now baseball is abuzz with the possibility that he might break camp as the fifth starter for the reigning National League champs. Painter even managed to make headlines during live batting practice.

There’s a lot about Painter that seems improbable. 19-year-olds who stand 6-foot-7 don’t often have 50/60 command grades. They’re the guys who spend years in the minors piling up walks and strikeouts while they slowly figure out where exactly all those limbs are supposed to go. Painter shouldn’t be free and easy throwing 99 mph in the zone. He should be a gangly, awkward teen like Alfredo Linguini from Ratatouille. Instead, he’s a commanding, fireballing teen who just happens to look like a whole lot like Alfredo Linguini from Ratatouille:

Wednesday was Painter’s first start of spring training. He went two innings, allowing three hits and a run. Although he surrendered five hard-hit balls, everyone who tuned in to watch him pitch came away even more excited. MLB.com’s headline put it simply enough: “Touching 99 mph, Painter earns widespread praise.”

While Painter has been the story since pitchers and catchers reported, the protagonist of the hot stove season was none other than the second batter he faced, Carlos Correa. At end of last season, the story was about the four premier free agent shortstops referred to as Xansby Cornerrea by people in the know (read: me and only me). Much to Correa’s chagrin, all that changed in dramatic fashion.

As Turner and Bogaerts secured their mega-deals and Swanson got his own long-term contract, Correa agreed to colossal terms with three different teams and somehow ended up right back where he started. First the Giants then the Mets agreed to shower him with so many years and millions that if you weren’t listening closely you might have the thought they were discussing geologic eras rather than baseball contracts. Immediately afterward, both teams read bone-chilling reports about his ankle and got cold feet. Correa landed back in Minnesota, and the Twins couldn’t be happier to have him for the long run.

I don’t want to imply that Correa was nervous to face Painter in his first plate appearance of the spring, but as he warmed up in the on deck circle he did seem to forget for just a moment that he’s right-handed:

The other big story of the season, of course, is the host of rule changes the league is implementing. The pitch clock made its presence felt even before Painter’s first pitch to Correa. Painter retired Joey Gallo on a towering popup to left to start the inning. That part’s not noteworthy. Gallo’s not awake in the morning until he’s hit three popups and had a cup of coffee. The popup was notable because Gallo launched the ball so high into an extremely bright Florida sky that both the shortstop and the center fielder lost it, and left fielder Símon Muzziotti had to bail them out at the last second. The broadcast showed a slow motion replay of the rescue, but Correa and Painter were ready to go so quickly that the cameras didn’t have time to reset fully. Then there’s what happened after the pitch:

That’s right. It took one whole pitch for Correa to completely forget about the pitch clock. He fouled off a 99 mph fastball at the very top of the zone, then wandered away from the plate to think deep thoughts. Luckily, he remembered just in the nick of time to scamper back into the box — in between pitches is no longer the appropriate time to contemplate life’s great mysteries. At that point, Correa had officially burned up his one chance to step out of the box or call timeout.

The second and the fourth pitches brought us to another of the year’s big conversations: robot umpires.

It seemed to me like Correa didn’t love the strike call on the second pitch. He froze and stared down at the spot for a (precious) second or two, as if to make sure the umpire knew that he thought the pitch was inside. Statcast shows that the pitch was very definitely a strike, and Correa soon got a much more generous call. After declining to chase a slider in the dirt, he watched another slider that caught a bit of the zone. Painter’s steep slider is exactly the kind of pitch that doesn’t get calls from flesh and blood umpires when it nicks the bottom of the zone, especially with two strikes. A robot umpire would have rung Correa up without mercy — unless of course it had been programmed to feel mercy — whereas a human ump can’t help but call a ball after seeing how low the pitch was by the time J.T. Realmuto caught it.

The fifth and final pitch of the at-bat brought one more trend and one more rule change to the fore. First is the fact that it was a cutter. Painter didn’t throw a cutter last year, but as I noted earlier this week, adding a cutter is the hot new trend of the offseason. Everybody and their brother is working on a new cutter. Painter’s seems to have impressed, as Realmuto included it when he told reporters that Painter throws five plus-pitches.

The rule change in question is the shift ban:

Correa hit a weak grounder deep into the hole, and all shortstop Edmundo Sosa could do was make a sliding play to knock it down. Correa wasn’t normally a shift candidate in 2022; he only saw the shift 6.3% of the time. But it’s definitely worth noting that Sosa was shading Correa up the middle some. Had the defense been shifted over even a tiny bit on that particular play, Sosa would likely have been in great position to field the ball cleanly and make the play. Instead, Correa started his spring off with an infield single. Correa himself is on board with the shift ban. During an in-game interview, he said, “There’s gonna be a lot of athleticism on display… That’s all exciting for the game, man. That’s all we want.”

The whole at-bat took less than a minute, but it still managed to serve as a microcosm for the entire offseason. All the stuff we’ve been been anticipating and dreading and arguing about for the last four months found its way into two strikes, two balls, and an infield single. Pretty good for five pitches.

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