After missing a little more than two months with injury, the Phillies sent Spencer Howard to the Arizona Fall League to add some more innings to his 2019 season.
Of course, there’s more to the experience than just simply accumulating innings. The Phillies’ No. 2 prospect reached Double-A for the first time this season, but because of his abbreviated campaign, Howard made just six starts and totaled 30 2/3 innings with Reading.
Pitching against advanced hitters in Arizona will give Howard more experience against upper-level competition and allow him to figure out what he needs to do to succeed and advance to the highest levels.
“Smart hitter, more patient definitely, just all around better, which, I think, is to be expected,” Howard said when asked about the transitions of climbing through the Minors. “You've got to bring at least one, maybe two, pitches with command.”
Howard, the No. 89 overall prospect in baseball, has solid stuff -- including a fastball and slider that both grade out as above average -- and has also made strides with his command.
After the Phillies took Howard in the second round (45th overall) of the 2017 Draft, Howard issued 5.7 walks per nine innings in his professional debut. The 23-year-old reduced that number to 3.2 in 2018 and dropped in again to 2.03 this season.
While he still has some consistency issues to improve upon, Howard knows he has the arsenal necessary to succeed and therefore has kept his goals pretty simple for his stint in Arizona.
“Just try to execute as many pitches as I can and if I do that, then I’ll be in pretty good shape,” Howard said.
Hitters in the Fall League:
• Alec Bohm, 3B (No. 1): Bohm, baseball’s No. 35 overall prospect, impressed across three levels in his full-season debut. The third overall pick from the 2018 Draft hit .305/.378/.518 with 21 homers over 125 games and finished the season with Double-A Reading. The Phillies felt Bohm was the best pure hitter in his Draft class and he’s done nothing to dissuade them so far in his young career. The 23-year-old can hit for both average and power and has also shown good awareness of the strike zone. Philadelphia is developing Bohm as a third baseman, but he did play 24 games at first in the regular season and has seen some time at first base in Arizona as well.
• Mickey Moniak, OF (No. 8): The No. 1 overall pick from the 2016 Draft certainly got off to a slow start in his professional career, but got back on track with a solid 2018 campaign. Moniak was bumped up to Double-A this season and although he got off to a fast start (he hit .290 in May and .294 in June), he struggled and hit .242 in the second half. Overall, the 21-year-old batted .252/.303/.439 over 119 games. There’s still work to be done offensively, but Moniak has improved defensively and shown he can be an asset in the outfield.
• Nick Maton, SS (No. 14): Maton doesn’t stand out for any plus-plus tools, but he does have the chance to develop four at least average tools. The 2017 Draft pick (seventh round) hit a career-best .266 over 114 games with Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading this season. Maton has also shown an ability to handle shortstop -- he's also played second and third base -- and possesses good hands, footwork and a solid arm.
• Josh Stephen, OF: Stephen put together the best year of his career in 2019. The 22-year-old, an 11th-round pick from the 2016 Draft set career highs in all three triple-slash categories as he hit .271/.342/.483 over 113 games. What’s more, Stephen did so while competing at the Double-A level for the first time.
Pitchers in the Fall League:
• JoJo Romero, LHP (No. 10): Romero, who generates a lot of groundball outs with his sinking fastball, also throws a cutter and a pair of breaking balls that flash above average. The 23-year-old saw his 2018 season come to an abrupt end because of an oblique injury, but he was able to stay healthy in 2019 and also made it up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Overall, Romero pitched to a 5.82 ERA over 24 starts between two levels.
• Connor Seabold, RHP (No. 30): Injuries limited Seabold to just 12 games (56 1/3 innings) in 2019, but when he was on the mound, he pitched well. The 23-year-old, a third-round pick from the 2017 Draft, struck out 58 batters and pitched to a 2.24 ERA. Seabold gave up two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 11 starts this season and although he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, he has solid command and a strong feel for pitching and mixing his fastball, curveball and changeup -- all of which grade out as average.
• Zach Warren, LHP: The 14th-round pick from the 2017 Draft got his first taste of pitching at the Class A Advanced level in 2019 and posted a 3.30 ERA over a career-high 40 games for Clearwater. Warren struck out 80 batters over 60 innings and converted seven of 10 save opportunities. The Tennessee product struggled a bit in July, but finished the season on a high note as he didn’t yield a run over his final three outings and posted a 2.19 ERA in August.