6 G, 6 GS, 24.1 IP, 30 H, 17 R (16 ER), 6 HR, 10 BB, 23 Ks, 5.92 ERA (5.86 FIP)
I don’t think it is a stretch to say Spencer Howard was the most highly anticipated Phillies’ pitching prospect this season. When he made his debut on August 9, fans were elated to see the 24-year-old rookie pitch after a successful minor league career. However, with Howard facing a tough Atlanta Braves lineup in the second game of a doubleheader against their ace Max Fried, this ultimately resulted in an 8-0 shutout and the first loss of his MLB career. Definitely not the kind of start Phillies fans or Spence were hoping for.
Most of his starts were average at best, but I feel a time he truly showed promise was in his final start of the season vs. Miami on Sept. 12. Through three innings, the Phils had supplied him with a 5-0 lead, and he allowed only one hit, one walk, and struck out five. He seemed to be cruising, but in the bottom of the fourth, he allowed a three-run homerun to Brian Anderson and was promptly removed from the game with an apparent injury.
The good news is that Howard produced some nasty pitches, most notably his four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. And although spotty, he showed signs of the kind of pitcher he could develop into in the near future over the course of his six starts. Overall, I think it was important that Howard was able to gain some experience during this weird season so that he was able to properly evaluate what he needs to work on in the offseason.
Injuries. Howard was placed on the injured list on Sept. 13 with shoulder stiffness and although eventually reinstated, did not pitch again in 2020.
Besides this injury that ended his season early, I believe the most concerning aspect of his 2020 season was his inconsistency. Whenever it seemed that he was getting into a groove, his pitching velocity would suddenly drop, he’d allow a game-altering hit, and his start would end after around 3-4 IP. The most innings he pitched during his six starts was 5.0 in an 8-6 win over the Nationals on August 31. This was also the first win of his MLB career and his only one in 2020.
I think Spencer Howard’s future with the Phillies is bright. Some might say it’s an excuse, but it’s important to consider the fact that Howard had never pitched above AA, and making your debut in a strange, pandemic-ridden, shortened season is not easy.
There are many things Howard needs to work on, such as keeping his velocity up and producing longer outings, but with the addition of Caleb Cotham as pitching coach, this will certainly help the young pitcher in his development. Everything Howard struggled with in 2020 can be improved upon over time. With some proper development and training, Howard can work his way up in the rotation. But for now, the fourth or fifth spot is a solid place for him, with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin at the head of the rotation. And I’m sure he will learn a thing or two and pick up some wisdom along the way from these three that he can apply to his work ethic and mindset.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, Howard didn’t exactly dazzle in his rookie season the way we’d all hoped he would. But he is only 24 and has a lot of potential, so I believe it’s silly to give up on him so quickly. My worry is that Howard is slowly becoming the “rotation scapegoat” now that Eflin has improved, and it’s an unfair assessment of the rookie pitcher. I would give Spencer Howard some more time before writing him off as another Phillies’ prospect dud just yet. 2021 will be better for him.