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Howard has all pitches working in AFL debut

@JonathanMayo
September 21, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After missing two months of the 2019 season, Spencer Howard’s main objective in coming to the Arizona Fall League was to get more work in. Being able to do that, while also showing off the stuff that places the Phillies' No. 2 prospect 89th on MLB Pipeline’s

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After missing two months of the 2019 season, Spencer Howard’s main objective in coming to the Arizona Fall League was to get more work in. Being able to do that, while also showing off the stuff that places the Phillies' No. 2 prospect 89th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, is a bonus.

“It’s always good to get more innings,” Howard said. “If you can mix in working on stuff with that, I think it’s a win-win.”

Starting for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Howard was able to mix in all four of his pitches in his AFL debut on Friday night against the Glendale Desert Dogs. The right-hander allowed one hit, to the first batter he faced, walked one and struck out two (both in the first inning) across three shutout innings. Scottsdale won the game, 3-2, on a walk-off home run by Phillies prospect Nick Maton.

Howard pitched with an appreciative farm director, Josh Bonifay, in the stands at Salt River Fields.

“I was very impressed,” Bonifay said. “He was up to 98 mph tonight and it had life. He showed ability to work above barrels, especially ahead of the count.”

While Howard's fastball didn’t dip below 95 mph and topped out at close to 98 mph, he was much more than his heater. Howard was able to mix in both his slider and curveball, as well as a very good changeup throughout his outing, looking much sharper than a guy who last pitched competitively on Sept. 4 should.

“I for sure felt rusty in my live [batting practice], like a week ago,” said Howard, whose last start was a playoff gem, in which he struck out 12 over seven innings in the Double-A Eastern League. “Tonight, I felt I was getting back in the swing of things. Early, was the slider. Late, I started throwing more changeups. Threw a few curveballs, too. Overall, I felt pretty good.”

“His slider was on point and his changeup [was, too],” Bonifay agreed. “He has four plus pitches, at times, and his ability to work with any of them sets him apart. His ability to command all four allows him to compete night in and night out. He was very impressive tonight.”

Howard went on the Florida State League injured list in early May and didn’t return until early July, but pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he made six very effective starts before his one postseason outing. Even with his success -- a combined 2.03 ERA, .173 batting average against, 11.9 K/9 rate and 2.0 BB/9 rate over 71 innings -- the 23-year old came to Arizona knowing there were still improvements to be made.

“Overall, just develop consistency with secondary stuff and continue to work on fastball command, nothing too crazy,” Howard said. “Get back in the swing of things, get competitive again, it was definitely good.”

His teammate Maton, the Phillies’ No. 14 prospect, was just as good on Friday. The infielder’s ninth-inning blast was 106.3 mph off the bat and landed a projected 411 feet away over the right-center-field fence, a perfect exclamation point on his three-hit night.

“That ball was loud,” Bonifay said. “He has some buggy whip in that swing.”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.