Finally, he is coming to rescue the pitching staff.
Spencer Howard, the 37th best prospect in baseball, will be called up to start game two of the doubleheader on Sunday, per Scott Lauber of the Inquirer. In a season that has only been seven games, but has felt like a eternity for the pitching staff, this is a welcomed and necessary move.
The former second-round pick from Cal Poly, Howard has blossomed into the potential ace of this staff for the next decade. He pairs his upper 90s fastball with three plus offspeed pitches: a changeup, a slider and a curve. The Phillies farm system is not heavy on elite talent, but Howard is definitely elite. This is huge news for both the organization and the fan base.
In the short-term, the Howard call up can help in either capacity. If Howard throws the ball well Sunday against the Braves, I don’t think you can take him out of the rotation. With 53 games in 50 days, theoretically, the Phillies could use a six-man rotation for parts of the season. If they decide against that, moving Vince Velazquez to the bullpen strengthens a weakness, though I might strengthen the bullpen at this point.
Velazquez has gotten ample opportunity in the rotation. Until he develops that third pitch, he will not be able to be start. Vinny Velo has a real chance to be a dominant multi-inning reliever at his current ability level, so I think it’s just time for the Phillies to make the switch.
Bringing up Howard not only makes the starting staff better, it makes the bullpen better. It makes the whole team better.
In the long-term, you are potentially bringing up the ace of your staff for the foreseeable future. While Aaron Nola has established himself as our No. 1, I think he’s more of a 1B on a contending team’s staff. Echoing that sentiment, I believe that Zack Wheeler is more of a third starter as opposed to the role of second starter he currently occupies. Neither of those are meant to be digs at either player. Each are both above average pitchers that are needed for us to make a World Series bid in the next couple years.
But neither of them have the stuff and control that Howard does.
Howard definitely can struggle at times with his control, but when he is on, he has better pure stuff than Wheeler with the control and command of Aaron Nola. He is one of the few pitchers I have ever seen to actually have three plus offspeed pitches. I’ve seen pitchers who flash that many, but the majority of pitches out of Howard’s hands are plus. The different speeds, ranging from his 95-98 mph heater to his 80-84 mph changeup, make him really hard to get a read on as a hitter. And it’s just not the speed changes. By changing the location of his pitches (He likes to keep his fastball up, above the hitter’s hands, while the changeup sinks), Howard makes his already electric stuff play up even more.
While the Phillies have been anything but exciting to start the season, I will be glued to the TV tomorrow watching Howard take the hill. For a team that has struggled to produce elite big league talent from their farm system in recent years, this start means everything. There is added pressure, maybe not for Howard, but for Matt Klentak and the front office on this one.
Spencer Howard is one of the recent draft picks who has pitched his way into elite prospect status. The front office needs him to reach his potential if they want to hear less of the fan base complain about the on the field product and asking for their heads.
And with his start tomorrow, the clock on his career and the front office begins.