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The Road to The Show™: Spencer Howard

Top Phillies pitching prospect eyes Major League debut
Spencer Howard twice was named South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week during the 2018 season. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)
@katiejwoo
July 13, 2020

Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Spencer Howard. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here.

Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Spencer Howard. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here.

The Phillies selected Spencer Howard with their second-round pick in the 2017 Draft. In doing so, they ended up landing one of the top right-handed prospects in the game. A product of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a move from the Mustangs bullpen to the starting rotation helped launch Howard's success in the Minor Leagues.

2017 (Class A Short Season Williamsport)

In his first taste of the pros, the Phillies' No. 2 prospect bypassed Rookie ball completely, instead debuting in the New York-Penn League. Howard put up promising numbers in his inaugural season, going 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA over 28 1/3 innings in nine starts for the Crosscutters. He settled in nicely toward the end of the summer, yielding no more than one run in four of his final five starts, including in his penultimate outing of the year when he limited Auburn to one hit over five scoreless frames.

Overall in his rookie campaign, the California native limited opponents to a .214 average and racked up 40 strikeouts. But slightly erratic command led to 18 free passes.

2018 (Class A Lakewood)

In Howard's first full Minor League season, command concerns began to vanish. He spent the entire year with the BlueClaws, posting a 9-8 record in 23 starts. The 6-foot-3 right-hander showcased his flexibility, logging 112 innings and going at least six in eight of those outings.

Howard came out of the gate strongly, recording a 1.89 ERA in April, a month he closed by earning South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week honors. That was thanks to an April 26 start at Hagerstown, where he gave up two hits and struck out seven over six scoreless innings.

Then 22, Howard shined in the second half of the season. He was named Pitcher of the Week again on July 1, two days after recording a career-high 10 strikeouts over six shutout innings against Hagerstown. Two starts later, he pitched his first career complete game, allowing three hits and a walk while fanning eight over seven innings in a 4-1 win over Asheville.

After the SAL All-Star break, he notched a 6-2 record and 2.67 ERA while averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

His most impressive feat came when Lakewood needed him the most. With a berth in the Sally League Finals at stake, Howard fired a nine-inning no-hitter against Kannapolis. He whiffed nine, walked one and hit a batter while throwing 73 of 103 pitches for strikes in a performance that ultimately landed him the MiLBY award for Performance of the Year award.

An increase in fastball velocity, coupled with overall improved command, helped Howard register 147 strikeouts while walking 40 and serving up only six homers all season.

2019 (Rookie-level GCL Phillies, Class A Advanced Clearwater, Double-A Reading)

Last year ended up being a breakout season, even though Howard missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. He totaled only 71 innings, but his performance was enough to propel him on to MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list at No. 88.

Moving up to the Florida State League, Howard was dominant in April. He threw scoreless ball in two of his four starts, registered a career-best 11 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings against Florida on April 23 and finished the month with a 2.25 ERA. When the prized prospect started feeling some shoulder soreness, the Phillies shut him down through the end of June.

After a couple of rehab starts in the Gulf Coast League, Howard rejoined the Threshers and had little trouble returning to form. He pitched 15 scoreless innings across three starts and was named FSL Pitcher of the Week after tossing five no-hit frames against Florida on July 14. Less than two weeks later, Howard was promoted to the Eastern League, leaving Clearwater with a 1.29 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, .162 opponents' batting average and 48 strikeouts over 35 innings.

In closing out the season with the Fightin Phils, Howard put up similar numbers. He was 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in six starts, fanning 38 and walking nine over 30 2/3 frames. He was able to make up for some of the time he missed in the Arizona Fall League,

He was also able to make up for some missed time in the regular season with an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where he compiled a 2.11 ERA and 27 K's through 21 1/3 innings.

Howard completed the season by being named an Organization All-Star for the first time.

Now ranked as MLB.com's No. 34 overall prospect, Howard began 2020 by receiving an invitation to big league Spring Training. Unfortunately, his Grapefruit League stint was limited as he injured his right knee in a pre-camp workout. Still, the Phillies remain high on Howard after his electric season.

"His last live BP, he was up to 98-99," director of player development Josh Bonifay told MiLB.com in March. "His curveball is working. His slider is working, as is his changeup. It's some of the best stuff that I've seen from any young pitcher that I've been around."

With Major League Baseball poised to return later this month, both Howard and the organization's top prospect, infielder Alec Bohm, are in the 60-man player pool. Although he's unlikely to nail down a spot in the Opening Day rotation, Howard just might end up making his big league debut before the summer is over.

Katie Woo is an editorial producer for Minor League Baseball. Follow her on twitter at @katiejwoo.