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Phillies top pitching prospect Andrew Painter to undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday

After months of rest, rehab and rampant speculation, the top pitching prospect in baseball will indeed need surgery.

Andrew Painter of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins on March 1, 2023 at the Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida. Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Philadelphia Phillies righty Andrew Painter — arguably the top pitching prospect in all of baseball — will reportedly undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, bringing a months-long saga to what increasingly seemed like an inevitable conclusion. The surgery will be performed by Dr. Neil ElAttrache, the same expert who handled Bryce Harper’s operation last year.

Given the usual timeline for Tommy John recovery in pitchers, Painter will likely be out not only the rest of this year but quite possibly all of 2024 as well — a brutal development for a player who just a few months ago seemed like he would be an X-factor in the 2023 pennant race.

The 13th overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, Painter looked like a future ace from the moment he stepped on a pro mound, slicing his way through Low-A, High-A and Double-A in 2022 without any real trouble. His full-season numbers were comical — a 1.56 ERA and 13.5 K/9 across 103.2 innings — and the eye test backed it up, with a fastball that touched 100 mph and two wipeout breaking balls.

If he wasn’t the top pitching prospect in baseball, it was awfully close between he and Baltimore Orioles righty Grayson Rodriguez. The sky seemed to be the limit, and Painter entered spring training this year amid talk that he could make the Phillies’ Opening Day rotation — at just 19 years old.

And then, just a few days into camp, disaster struck. Painter experienced some discomfort in his throwing elbow in early March, and a subsequent MRI revealed a partial tear of his UCL. The baseball world feared the worst, but rather than have Painter immediately go under the knife, Philly opted to wait, hoping that rest and rehab would allow him to avoid surgery altogether. (It wasn’t totally wishful thinking: Pitchers have played through partial UCL tears before, most famously former New York Yankees star Masahiro Tanaka.)

It was radio silence on the Painter front for the next couple of months, until, in June, the team announced that the righty had resumed a throwing program. That eventually led to throwing off a mound, which led to multiple bullpen sessions and the hope that Painter might be able to appear in a Minor League game after the All-Star break ... until his elbow started barking again. The righty was shut down again, and this time there would be no rehab attempt:

Of course, Tommy John isn’t anywhere near the death sentence it was for most of the 20th century. Painter just turned 20 in April, and even if he misses all of next season he should hopefully be back on a mound in March of 2025 — when he’s all of 22 years old. We’ve seen countless examples of pitchers whose stuff remained or even improved after elbow surgery; here’s hoping that will be the case for one of the most electric young arms in the sport. The Phillies, meanwhile, will have to continue their NL Wild Card push without him — if there’s a silver lining on that front, it’s that lefty Cristopher Sanchez has been excellent of late in the fifth-starter spot.