ARLINGTON -- Spencer Howard is excited to be here. “Super stoked,” even, he says with his California vibe fully present on Zoom.
After a crazy Trade Deadline, when Howard was traded by the Phillies in return for veteran pitchers Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy, the young right-hander is settling in with the Rangers and ready to get going.
“[The Trade Deadline] was a lot,” Howard said. “I think I felt every emotion there was yesterday, just leaving what I had always known with the Phillies and everything. I was pretty comfortable there, just knowing everyone, and I had all my friends there. But I think it's really good for me to be here now. You know, get a fresh start and hopefully get to contribute to [the] team.”
Howard, a second-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, entered the '21 season as Philadelphia’s top-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline. He exceeded rookie status earlier this year, but he would have ranked No. 2 in the Rangers’ farm system, had he been eligible at the time of the trade.
Rangers general manager Chris Young and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels both emphasized the quality of Howard’s stuff and the ceiling he has as a big league pitcher. Howard was somebody the front office has had their eye on for quite some time, but Philadelphia considered him untouchable as a prospect in trade negotiations until now.
“He’s one of the top young right-handed starters in the game,” Daniels said. “He's hit a little bit of a speed bump in the big leagues, and he’s working through that. Quite frankly, we looked at that as an opportunity to get him. I think if he was having immediate success, he probably wouldn't have been available. So we're excited about that opportunity and excited to have him come here and work with our pitching coaches and continue to advance his career.”
That “speed bump” had been a 5.72 ERA through 11 MLB games and seven starts this season. He’s allowed just three runs across six Triple-A starts this year. Howard’s role with Philly’s big league club was constantly changing, and he found it hard to get into a routine.
That lack of routine, combined with his tendency to nibble at the strike zone, led to some of his early struggles at the big league level. And though he couldn’t control the outside factors, he tried to focus on his conditioning and weightlifting to keep himself in the best shape possible for whatever situation arose for him.
The Rangers have told Howard that he’ll likely be in a starting role as they try to build up his pitch count. Howard hasn’t thrown more than 68 pitches in a single start at the MLB level at all this season.
He’ll throw a bullpen session on Sunday and hopefully slot into the rotation in the coming weeks.
“I don't think words can express [how important it’ll be to have a specific role],” Howard said. “I'm super excited to just be somewhere and get to work and finally push past whatever kind of barrier I have on myself, pitching-wise. To be here and be doing it in this brand-new facility is just icing on the cake. So I'm super excited.
“I think being able to just go about my work and really dig deep physically, mentally, whatever. To just be able to go out there and pitch is going to be really good for me. ... Now, all that's left is to go and play baseball.”
Rangers manager Chris Woodward was on point when asked about Howard and whether he would immediately be placed into the rotation, saying the righty would have to earn the position after conversations with the pitching staff and coaches. He said that whatever role any pitcher is in, not just Howard, needs to have some consistency.
Howard is happy to do so and wants to earn a starting spot as the centerpiece of the Rangers' rebuild.
“And just to be clear, you are excited to be here?” a reporter joked with Howard at the end of his Zoom session.
Howard tapped the mic, saying he feels like a broken record on the call: “I would say I’m very, very excited to be here, yes.”