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First Impressions: SP Spencer Howard

Written by: Danny Hacker
Follow him on Twitter: @theGREATdanny94
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The Phillies No. 1 Overall Prospect according to our Rankings, Spencer Howard. You can read about Howard, and the rest of the Phillies Top 20 Prospects with grades, FV, ETA, and analysis on each prospect! https://prospectsworldwide.com/2020/07/28/phillies-top-20-prospects/

The Phillies entered Sunday with a 4-4 record and going into a Doubleheader, hoping for a major spark and a DH sweep of the rival Atlanta Braves. On Sunday, that potential spark joined the team at Citizens Bank Park and the world finally met Spencer Howard, the Phillies top pitching prospect and one of the best in all of Major League Baseball. While it did not go as well as the Phillies and fans would have liked, Howard showed off what has made him vault up prospect rankings since being drafted in the 2017 Draft to become where he is today and gave a lot of people some hope for the now and the future, even if he did not win his debut.

The Line: 4.2 IP, 4ER, 4R, 7H, 4K, 1BB on 81 Pitches and got the Loss
The Pitch Breakdown: 81 Total Pitches (56 for Strikes, 69.1%)

Pitch:Number/%CSW%Avg VeloMax VeloSpin Rate
4 Seam Fastball42 (52%)19%93.5 mph95.5 mph2.382 RPM
Slider19 (23%)47%83.4 mph85.5 mph2,450 RPM
Changeup15 (19%)40%79.5 mph80.8 mph1,444 RPM
Curveball5 (6%)20%73.1 mph74.1 mph2,236 RPM

Howard’s Fastball was sitting comfortably in the 95-97 range last year with it hitting upper 90s (98-99) in the Arizona Fall League last year however we didn’t see much of that upper 90s fastball in this outing. On Sunday, it sat at 93 with it topping out at just a tick over 95 at 2,382 RPMs which right now is nothing other than a simple notice. It’s his first impression for cryin’ out loud! However, I am curious if that is just because of the weird build-up to this season and not being able to find those extra few ticks or if that was an abnormally last fall.

His Fastball had some pretty underwhelming numbers with a 19% CSW%, Zero Whiffs, 8 called strikes and 10 were in play and I think that is because as you can tell from the Pitch Chart above, Howard left a lot of fastballs over the heart of the plate. Luckily for his sake, he didn’t get even more burned as three of four runs came on just two Home Runs (one of which was on an inside Fastball to Freddie Freeman in the third). Only one of his four strikeouts came on the Fastball and it was a called strike to Adam Duvall in the 2nd which is seen below.

Howard throws three secondary pitches which are a Slider, a Changeup, and a Curveball with his Changeup being his best secondary pitch in my opinion. That did display itself on Sunday but not before some confusion on everyone’s behalf thanks to Savant’s Data picking it up as a Curveball for the first few innings (thanks again to Mike Petriello for the clarification on debuts and Savant seen above) however it was actually Howard’s Slider that had the best outing, per se, of any of his pitches.

The Slider sat in the low 80s and was spun at 2,450 RPM which is slightly above the average spin rate for one. Of Howard’s 19 Sliders, 13 were swung at. 7 were whiffed at (54%), 2 were called strikes and 2 were in play (one of which was Acuna’s Home Run in the 5th). Despite the home run, it also had the most Ks of any pitch Howard threw on Sunday (both seen below) and had a 47% CSW%.

Howard’s Changeup sat in the high 70s and was spun at 1,444 RPMs over 15 of them. Of the 15, 9 were swung at (3 were whiffs, 33%), 3 were called strikes and 4 were in play. The last of Howard’s 4Ks on the day was a Changeup to Ozuna in the 5th (seen below) and carried a 40% CSW%.

Finally, Howard sparingly used his low 70s, 2,236 RPM Curveball, and only threw it five times. Of the 5 times he threw it, 2 were swung at; 1 whiff and 1 in play. From the very small sample size, it looked okay but was behind the other pitches and he hung it a couple of times that he definitely should not do in the future.

One question about Howard on the eve of his debut has been his control/command which he struggled with early on before steadily improving his BB/9 in each of the last few MiLB seasons (5.7 in ’17, 3.2 in ’18, and 2.0 in ’19) all while maintaining incredible strikeout numbers overall. That question/concern was not there in Howard’s debut as he threw 56 of 81 pitches for strikes (69.1%) and after walking Dansby Swanson as the second batter of the game, he rebounded tremendously and didn’t walk a single batter after that. Even more so, he did not face a single 3-2 count AFTER that and only got to 3-1 one other time in the entire outing in the 2nd Inning. I definitely think we can be on our way to stop knocking Howard for his control/command.

Overall, looking at the stat line it did not live up to the hype but when you look deeper into the outing and see what Howard really did, or just watching the outing on tv was impressive as he went on, you can see all the makings of a great pitcher moving forward. Howard’s Fastball along with 2 plus secondary pitches and an average Curveball will help him succeed in this league for quite some time. He will be a starter for his entire career and calling him a future ace is not out of the question at all. Howard’s next start is Friday vs the Mets and it should be another step in the right direction for the Phillies because, with Spencer Howard, the sky is the absolute limit.

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