There are few things more exciting for a baseball fan than when a highly touted prospect makes their professional debut. Over the years, Phillies fans have enjoyed watching players like Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Juan Samuel, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, and Rhys Hoskins, among a slew of others, climb the ladder through the farm system and make their much-heralded first big league appearances. One hopes Alec Bohm isn’t far off, either.
On Sunday, Phillies fans got their first real look at Spencer Howard, the team’s No. 1 prospect, for the first time. It wasn’t a spectacular debut; although it wasn’t a disaster, either. The 24-year-old went 4 2⁄3 innings against a talented Atlanta Braves lineup and gave up four earned runs on seven hits with four strikeouts, one walk and two home runs. He featured a mid-90s fastball that he had trouble locating, a swing-and-miss curveball and slider, and an effective changeup.
Howard himself said he wasn’t sharp and given the benefit of experience, should bounce back and give Manager Joe Girardi a number of quality starts throughout the rest of the season.
That’s dependent on Howard getting starts, however, an assumption that is not assured. After Sunday’s doubleheader, Girardi indicated Vince Velasquez would make his next start and indicated Howard could be moved to the bullpen to help buttress a sagging Phillies relief corps.
“Right now, my plans are for Vinny to make that start,” Girardi said. “I have not talked to anyone. We’re going on a five-man rotation, Spencer came up and threw the second part of a doubleheader. I’ll sit down and talk to our coaches and (GM Matt Klentak and assistant GM Ned Rice) and we’ll make a decision.
“We didn’t come into today and say we were going to make a change in the rotation. We didn’t come out and say that. We said we’re going to evaluate every day what’s best for our team” (quotes via Corey Seidman, NBC Sports Philadelphia).
Velasquez pitched better than Howard on Sunday. In the first game of the doubleheader (Spencer started the second), Velasquez went four innings and gave up just one run, although he needed nearly 80 pitches to get 12 outs. High pitch counts have long been a staple of Velasquez’ game, consistent for the five years he’s been a regular member of the Phillies rotation. The hope has long been that Velasquez could figure out how to pitch and learn how to get deeper into games.
It’s been five years. It is what it is. Keeping Velasquez in the rotation and putting Howard in the bullpen is precisely the opposite of what the Phils should do.
With Velasquez in the ‘pen, he can throw as many pitches as he wants to get through two or three scoreless innings. It doesn’t matter, and Velasquez’ presence there could also help a struggling relief corps. More importantly, it would open up a spot in the rotation for Howard, a hurler with a better arm, better command of his plus-stuff, and not to put too fine a point on it, a brighter future.
Velasquez is 28 years old and has 101 starts and nearly 530 innings to his credit. The track record is what it is and a light switch isn’t likely to suddenly flip “on”. Howard may struggle this year, but if he’s going to stay on the big league roster (and he absolutely should) he should be making a start every fifth day. It not only assists in his development as a potential future ace of the staff, but it gives the 2020 Phillies a better chance to win.
Vince Velasquez can be a solid contributor in the bullpen. Spencer Howard can be a top big league starting pitcher. Reversing those roles makes no sense, both in the short-term and long view.
On Episode 406 of Hittin’ Season, we talked at length about Howard’s debut and the potential of him being put in the bullpen. Also, the Phils’ bats have been uneven to start the year, the bullpen has been consistently bad, and a brawl in Oakland is sure to make MLB officials furious. Don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review on Apple Podcasts and check us out on Spotify as well!