It's coming a little later than expected, but top Phillies pitching prospect Spencer Howard will make his Double A debut on Friday night.
Howard will start for the Reading Fightin Phils against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Toronto's Double A club. First pitch is 7:05 p.m. in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Howard, who turns 23 on Sunday, is a strong-bodied right-hander with power stuff and a full complement of off-speed pitches. He was the team's second-round draft pick in 2017. He began jetting up the franchise's list of top prospects while pitching for Single A Lakewood in 2018, his first full season of pro ball.
Howard recorded a 3.78 ERA in 23 starts for Lakewood last season and struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings. In his final two starts - both in the South Atlantic League playoffs - he allowed just three hits, one walk and one run in 14 innings while striking out 15. One of those starts was a nine-inning no-hitter. He walked one and struck out nine while throwing 103 pitches in that gem.
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"He's a power guy with four plus pitches and at times they're all wipeout," Brad Bergeson, Lakewood's pitching coach last season, said in spring training (see story). "All of them. Fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. He's got an unbelievable arsenal. The sky is the limit. It's a special arm."
Over the winter, Howard became very popular with rival teams who sought to acquire him in a trade. Both Seattle and Miami tried to pry him away from the Phillies in deals, but the Phillies were very protective of him. They remain so as this summer's trade deadline arrives next week. In fact, Howard and power-hitting third baseman Alec Bohm are pretty much untouchable in the Phillies' system.
Howard began this season at Single A Clearwater in the Florida State League and was tagged for a quick jump to Double A. He struck out 11 and walked none in 5 2/3 innings in his fourth start of the season against the Florida Fire Frogs on April 23. He was placed on the disabled list with what was called shoulder fatigue after that start.
The Phillies were cautious in bringing Howard back. He was sidelined for two months but is now dominating again. He gave up just three hits over 15 scoreless innings while striking out 18 and walking just one in his last three starts for Clearwater.
"He's healthy and he's ready," Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development said of Howard's move to Double A. "He has plus weapons, two breaking balls that he's throwing for strikes, and a firm fastball. We think it's a good time to see how he locates his pitches against more mature, experienced hitters."
At his current rate of advancement, Howard should be in the picture for work in Philadelphia next season. It's not likely that he would be in play to help the current big-league team in September, but it's also not out of the question. Howard has pitched just 40 1/3 innings this season so workload would not be an issue if the team felt he could help in September. All of that, of course, is contingent on how he performs over the final five weeks of the minor-league season.
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