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2021 Player Preview: Spencer Howard

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The top pitching prospect struggled in 2020, but there’s still plenty to be optimistic about.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Along with Alec Bohm, the debut of Spencer Howard was one of the most anticipated moments of the 2020 season. Sadly what followed, was six mediocre and injury plagued starts and some question marks heading into 2021.

2020 Statistics: 6 GS, 1-2, 5.92 ERA, 1.644 WHIP, 5.86 FIP

What could go right in 2021?

Ideally, Howard makes the leap and becomes a legitimate 4th or 5th starter this season setting himself up to take the next step in 2022. After Zach Eflin, the Phillies have question marks in the fourth and fifth starter spots. Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, and Vince Velasquez all aren’t sure fire bets by any means, and most likely aren’t long term options. Howard could really take the reigns here and establish himself in the majors.

The longest start Howard made in 2020 was five innings where he threw 91 pitches. If he can get in a rhythm of going at least six innings more often than not, and be a reliable option at the back end of the rotation, I think we’ll all take that with his first full season in the MLB.

What could go wrong in 2021?

Of course the opposite of that is Howard does not progress, and the same control issues that plagued him last season persist. There has been some talk of moving him to the bullpen, but I’d really like to see the Phillies not go in that direction at least for now. Worst case, he spends most of if not the full season in AAA. It is important to remember that he only made six starts in Reading at the end of 2019 before coming up to the Phillies last season. He very well could use more time in the minors to develop.

What to expect?

I think a realistic expectation for Howard is he starts the year in AAA, finds his footing, and receives the call-up in early to mid-June. Obviously we’d all like to see him make the team out of camp and stick in the rotation, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Phillies go with the more veteran options in Moore and Anderson. The key for Howard will be if he can find his control again, and get more batters to strike out, something else he struggled with in limited action last season.