|Spencer Howard, image- Jay Floyd|
On a pitching staff that leads the Class A South Atlantic League in earned run average with a 2.81 ERA through action played on Sunday, a hurler with a personal ERA of 4.50, as Howard has, might normally not be all that noteworthy. That could especially be the case when a pair of his teammates, Will Stewart and David Parkinson, rank first and third in the league in ERA respectively. But the Phillies second round draft choice from 2017, Howard, feels that he’s made the right amount of progress and is proud of what his teammates are accomplishing.
The environment is enjoyable and fortifying for all of the BlueClaws’ promising young pitchers. They're supportive of one another and they each push the next man with friendly competition. There's no selfishness and there's nobody hoping to be the only one performing well in order to stand out.
"Throughout this organization with the staffs that I’ve been on, it seems to be a trend," Howard shared following his most recent start. "I don’t know if the Phillies just purposely go for good people, or whatever, but overall it’s just good-ass dudes playing some baseball. It’s a lot of fun."
Lakewood's pitching staff overall leads all of minor league baseball with 20 shutouts.
The right-hander, who is listed at six-feet-three and 205 pounds, has tallied a 6-7 record with an outstanding 11.6 K/9 mark and a .238 batting average against through 17 Sally League starts to date this season.
Howard’s production has seen some ups (1.89 ERA in four April starts) and downs (8.79 ERA in four May starts) this season. He attributes the arduous path to occasional mechanical flaws and he feels comfortable with knowing that he's aware of how to right the ship when it goes off course. And even when he’s not able to adjust in an immediate fashion, he’s taking lessons along the way to ensure each outing has a silver lining.
“When I feel confident in my mechanics then everything’s there,” Howard said. “It’s been a consistency thing for me, just trying to get to that comfortable place on the mound. There’s been a few outings where I haven’t felt that good, but I managed to just battle through it.”
While the California native works to enhance the evenness of his mechanics, the Phillies have stressed the importance for Howard to build a solid base and develop a better understanding of pitch sequences.
Once that foundation is firmly in place the fast track may not be far off for the product of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
"When it comes together, and for me it's going to come together not too far down the road, maybe the second half of his progression to the big leagues is going to go a little bit quicker than maybe the first half," said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan.
Howard made his professional debut within about a month of being selected with the 45th overall pick last year. In nine starts with Class A short-season Williamsport Howard posted a 1-1 record with a 4.45 ERA and a .214 batting average against.
His pitch repertoire features a fastball that frequently reached 97 and 98 miles per hour in his most recent outing in which he struck out 10 batters in 5 1/3 innings. He’s also equipped with an exceptional cutter that resembles a slider, a curveball that features good break and a change up that fools batter frequently. Each pitch can come off as what insiders would call plus offerings.
“It’s fun to watch him start to put all those pitches together in one outing,” Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen stated “Earlier in the year I’d see him have one of the four, or two of the four or three of the four sometimes, but his last few outings he’s been a lot more consistent with his feel of four pitches.”
With noticeable progress and a bright future ahead, Howard and the Phillies are excited to see what happens when the base, his mechanics and the aresenal become unrelenting.
“It's got a chance to happen big,” said Jordan.