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1. Spencer Howard – P
2019 Top-30
Age: 23 yr, Weight: 205 lbs, Height: 6-2
Hits/Throws: R/R
School: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
MLB Draft: Round 2, Overall: 45
Future Value
Ceiling: 60
Realistic: 55
Current Level: AA, ETA: 2020
Future number-two starter with a devastating changeup

When the Phillies hired Jason Ochart to be the team’s minor league hitting coordinator in December 2018, it indicated change. A team like the Phillies were now willing to take on strategists with a technical and data-driven understanding of the game far beyond that of many decision-makers previously in front offices. Other teams have not been as willing to turn over entire departments to accelerate growth. The Phillies did so only with their hitting, leaving elements to be desired in the development of their pitching practices. And atop the division of their farm with question marks is a right-hander without many — Spencer Howard.

Howard’s 2019 saw a jump all the way to Double-A with minimal performance lag. He possesses a plus changeup that borders on a palmball with his deep-set grip and a plus fastball that ranges from 93-97 mph. The combination is a nightmare for left-handed hitters. He uses his changeup versus right-handers often as well, although he does tend to be more fastball heavy. His two breaking balls — a slow, early count curve and a two-plane slider — are likely to teeter between average and above-average pitches throughout his career. His slider is the key to unlocking the upper level of his future value, which can push towards a 4-WAR pitcher with SP2 upside.

And this is where the Phillies’ own development practices with pitchers become so important. Will they be able to offer him enough resources to take his slider to an offering right-handers can’t touch in-game? Or will Howard’s ultimate breakout come from his own doing, like Lucas Giolito’s arm adjustment? Determining the latter question’s probability is particularly difficult, hence the small piece of uncertainty with Howard. But unlike many lower-level arms with much time to grow, Howard will contribute in some capacity come 2020. We’ll find out how much of an impact he can make at 23 years old soon enough. -LB