We all get to chase our dreams, but far fewer get to live them.
Mick Abel is one of those few, and according to the Jesuit High School alumnus and current Clearwater Threshers starting pitcher, it's definitely lived up to the hype.
"I'm having a really good time," Abel said. "This is my first real taste of professional baseball, and it's everything everybody said it would be. It's a grind, but I absolutely love it."
Abel was the Philadelphia Phillies' first pick and the 15th overall pick in the 2020 Major League Baseball draft. At 6-foot-5, with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a nasty slider to go with it, the now-19-year-old was considered by the Phillies front office staff to be the best high school pitcher in the draft.
Now, more than a year later and two months into his minor league career, nothing's changed in the minds of those same scouts and executives who committed to the Oregon prep in June of last year.
"I saw Mick in instructional league last year and then I saw him pitch in spring training this year, and I would just tell you he's exactly what we thought he was going to be come this time," Phillies director of amateur scouting Brian Barber told the blog Phillies Nation last Thursday. "He still has a long ways to get to the big leagues, and he still has a lot of different things to learn, but as far as the talent level that's on the field, he's exactly what we thought it was going to be."
Abel's season thus far has been a series of ups and downs. Early on, his innings were limited due to the teen's year away from the game — both the Oregon high school season and the entire minor league season were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic — and he gave up his share of runs, allowing 13 over his first 21 2/3 innings pitched.
But since then, Abel has found his groove. He has allowed just five runs over his last four starts, including two five-inning shutouts. On Friday, July 9, he threw five hitless innings with eight strikeouts and four walks.
In all, Abel has started 12 games and has accrued a 4.23 ERA with 58 strikeouts and 20 walks. He said he's getting more comfortable, which in turn is manifesting itself on the field.
"My biggest strides have been mentally, which has been my ability to make small adjustments and fine-tune things during the game, which has helped me be more comfortable overall," Abel said. "In the minor leagues, it's all about development, and I think I'm making some really big strides."
Focusing on that individual development is an adjustment for most. In a competitive environment, it's sometimes difficult for young professionals to forget about wins and losses. But Abel seems to understand the dynamic and said it's important to keep the big picture in mind.
"Everybody's here to get better," he said. "Guys want to make it to the next level, and it's when you get to the big leagues when that winning mentality takes over that developmental mode. When you get to that point in your career, it's more about winning and working on your own stuff in the offseason."
All things aside, Abel is just happy to be playing. He said it was "very difficult" missing his final high school season, and the loss was exponential without what would have been his first minor league campaign. But he used the time off to fine-tune his game, working for a time with other local standouts at West Linn High School.
"When (Jesuit head coach Colin) Griffin told me we weren't going to have a season, it was one of the more heart-wrenching moments of my life, because I'm in love with this game," Abel said. "I always aspired to be where I am today, so it was hard, but it turned out to be really good for me in terms of making sure that all of my pitches and my mentality towards everything was fine-tuned."
Abel said that while the competition level is far greater at the Low-A level of the minor leagues as opposed to high school, to him, it's still just baseball. It's about throwing the ball by the hitter. That remains his mentality despite the professional setting.
However, as a professional and along with his first-round draft status, additional pressure and some good-natured ribbing come with the territory.
"There's definitely a stigma around first-round guys," Abel said with a chuckle, "You'll hear it from fans and some of the players. But I just don't listen to it."
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