SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Sam Howard, who started Sunday's Cactus League game against the Giants, and righty Yency Almonte, who followed him, are pitchers it pays to know.Beyond the seven starting pitchers who were part of last year's team that earned a National League Wild Card spot, the Rockies
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Sam Howard, who started Sunday's Cactus League game against the Giants, and righty Yency Almonte, who followed him, are pitchers it pays to know.
Beyond the seven starting pitchers who were part of last year's team that earned a National League Wild Card spot, the Rockies have no other starter who has pitched in a Major League regular-season game. Howard, the Rockies' No. 17 rated prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and Almonte, rated 10th, made the leap from Double-A Hartford to Triple-A Albuquerque last season and are the last starting prospects standing in camp.
Sunday was rough for Howard -- five runs and six hits that included a Hunter Pence homer in 2 2/3 innings, with two walks and three strikeouts. Almonte didn't fare much better, allowing three runs -- resulting from Pablo Sandoval's three-run homer -- and four hits in two innings with three strikeouts and three walks.
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So, let's learn more about Howard, 25, and Almonte, 23.
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Fathers know best
It's common that dads have faith in their son's ability, but it's uncommon that dads would know so much from little personal experience.
Howard, from Cartersville, Ga., said his father, Tom, could not afford to participate in sports growing up. But he raised a couple of athletes: Jack, Sam's older brother, played golf at the Air Force Academy, and Sam played collegiate baseball at Georgia Southern before the Rockies selected him in the third round in 2014.
Interestingly, Howard nearly quit baseball and concentrated on cross-country, back when his body was nothing like its current 6-foot-4, 191-pound design.
"When I got to high school, I was maybe 5-9, 100 pounds," Howard said. "Going into my sophomore year of high school, he and my high school coach talked me into keep trying and not give up. Then, going into my senior year, I grew about three inches and gained about 15 pounds.
"My dad took me to college camps. He'd say, 'Hey, do you have a spot? I can bring my son down.' That's how I went to Georgia Southern. They had a little prospect camp, I went down there and pitched, and they wanted him to bring me down for a visit."
Ramon Almonte, Yency's dad, also has raised two athletes. Denny Almonte was a Mariners second-round pick as an outfielder in 2007, and advanced as far as Triple-A. Ramon knows the game and trains young athletes at a baseball school in Miami.
Yency is amazed at his father's knowledge.
"It was crazy," Yency said. "He never played baseball anywhere, ever, but he has an academy back home in Miami. I help out a lot with coaching back home."
Almonte, at 6-5 and 226 pounds, is the classic big-arm righty with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, a slider that can be devastating and a developing changeup. The slider at times was sweeping last year, but his mechanics were inconsistent. Better balance over the rubber has led to a slider with more downward break.
"You look at the leg kick and the stride, the length of the stride, and he's got a little bit of a longer arm -- it looks a little bit sort of a throwback-type delivery that you'd see a guy maybe a generation ago," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "He's staying within his mechanics so far this spring, which is tremendous. But his stuff looks as though it comes easy just because of how he throws."
Howard's fastball runs 89-92 mph, with a mix that involves a tight slider and a changeup.
"He's going to have to command the fastball, change speeds," Black said. "The [changeup] is a weapon. The fastball command has to be a big part of his success. Tight little slider to lefties and righties. He's got his weapons that can get big leaguers out."
Build that confidence
Both are in camp for the second time and on the 40-man Major League roster for the first timie. Almonte went 5-3 with a 2.00 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings at Hartford, before going 3-1, 4.89 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) at Albuquerque. His relief numbers weren't stellar in the Arizona Fall League (0-1, 6.97 ERA), but the assignment was to develop aggression in his mentality, and he has carried it to camp.
"More confidence, second big league camp, so I'm just here to show what I can do, and hopefully, at some point, get the call to the big leagues," Almonte said.
Howard went 1-4 but with a 2.33 ERA at Hartford and 4-4, 3.89 ERA at Albuquerque. He finished with a combined 104 strikeouts in 127 1/3 innings.
"When I got to Triple-A, I definitely noticed the strike zone got smaller," Howard said. "It got more like the big leagues. Hitters got more disciplined. It will definitely make me a better pitcher."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.