Saturday, March 7, 2020

2020 Phillies Prospects Countdown: #1 RHP Spencer Howard

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Spencer Howard, image- Jay Floyd
Right-handed pitcher Spencer Howard is this outlet’s choice as the Phillies’ top overall prospect. Howard was the team’s second round draft selection in 2017 (45th overall) out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and has proven to be an exceptional hurler in his time in the minor leagues.

In college, in his draft year/sophomore season, Howard sported an 8-1 record with a 1.95 ERA and a 10 K/9 mark over 17 appearances (12 starts) for the Mustangs. As a red shirt freshman the previous year, he posted a 2.95 ERA in 21 appearances (two starts).

After signing his first professional contract, Howard debuted with Class A short-season Williamsport, where he notched a 1-1 record with a 4.45 ERA and a .214 batting average against while striking out 40 and walking 18 in 28 1/3 innings in nine starts. Following the regular season, he participated in the Florida Instructional League.

Howard felt great levels of comfort with his Lakewood teammates, describing his situation as being among “good-ass dudes playing some baseball”. While there, he experienced some highs and some lows, as he notched a 1.89 ERA in four April starts, then came back down to Earth to sport an 8.79 ERA in four May starts for the BlueClaws.

He turned a corner, however, in late June. Starting with a six-inning, no-run, 10 strike out performance against Hagerstown on June 29th, Howard would post a 1.52 ERA over his final 11 starts of the regular season. The success didn’t end there, as Howard had the best day of his life in the post-season, clinching his team’s trip to the South Atlantic League finals by tossing a nine-inning no-hitter against division rival Kannapolis.

Overall, in 23 regular season starts with Lakewood, Howard tallied a 9-8 record with a 3.78 ERA with an 11.8 K/9 mark and a .240 batting average against.

In 2019, Howard opened his campaign with Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he was sidelined with a shoulder injury just four starts into his season.  After roughly two months on the shelf, Howard returned to the mound.  In total, he made seven starts with Clearwater, posting a 2-1 record with 1.29 ERA, a .162 batting average against and a 12.3 K/9 mark.

Howard was promoted to Double-A Reading in July, making six regular season starts there, collecting a 1-0 record with a 2.35 ERA, a .180 batting average against as well as an 11.2 K/9 mark. 

Over the most recent off-season, Howard made up for some of that lost time by participating in the Arizona Fall League, where he faced many of baseball's top minor league talents.  In six appearances for the Scorpions, Howard notched a 1-1 record with a 2.11 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP.  Additionally, he struck out 27 batters in 21 1/3 innings of work. 

Consistency with his delivery is critical for Howard and he knows that's where he can run into trouble with his control. As he moves forward, this will be a key focus for the talented California native.

The 23-year-old has a remarkable feel for all four of his offerings. Howard's pitch repertoire includes a blazing fastball that has clocked in the triple digits quite steadily at times. More commonly it resides around 96-97 MPH. He’s also equipped with an exceptional cutter that resembles a slider, a curveball that features very good break and a superior change up that has fade and fools opposing batters frequently.

Work ethic is a standout quality for the six-foot-three 205-pounder according to Phillies developmental personnel.  A dominant pitcher, Howard has the potential to be a front line big league starter.

Howard was invited to big league spring training this year, but has missed time with a knee injury.

I would expect Howard to open the season back with Double-A Reading, but it shouldn't be long before he gets the opportunity to test his skills at the Triple-A level.

You can keep tabs on this year's top 25 Phillies prospects countdown by clicking this link.

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