Should Phillies consider calling up pitching prospect Spencer Howard?

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 17: Fans try to catch a home run by New York Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres (25) during an MLB spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 17, 2019, at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, FL. (Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 17: Fans try to catch a home run by New York Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres (25) during an MLB spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 17, 2019, at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, FL. (Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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With the Phillies starting rotation in shambles, should they consider giving pitching prospect Spencer Howard a shot in the majors in September?

The Phillies lost many of their exciting prospects in the last few years via graduation to the majors or trades. On top of that, they are usually hesitant to call them up to the majors when rosters expand in September unless their prospects are already on the 40-man roster.

Since few top prospects are on 40-man rosters, Philadelphia rarely calls up any exciting names when September rolls around. However, this year may be the time to make an exception with pitching prospect Spencer Howard.

As anyone following the Phillies this year knows, the pitching staff is a disaster. Ten different pitchers are currently on the injured list, and the ones that are healthy are largely struggling. Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas now have to play large roles in the rotation, an indication of how things are going.

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Considering the struggles of the rotation this year, any and all help from the minors would be welcomed. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much as Cole Irvin and Enyel De Los Santos didn’t provide any relief to a battered starting unit.

Meanwhile, Howard is wrapping up an impressive minor-league season. He only made 15 starts this year after missing two months early in the season with a shoulder injury, but he has done well in those starts.

In that time, he has a 2.03 ERA, 0.831 WHIP, and 5.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71 innings pitched.

In their midseason update, Baseball America (subscription required) ranked Howard as the best pitching prospect and second-best overall prospect in the system behind Alec Bohm. MLB.com is a little less bullish on Howard but is still quite high on him, ranking him No. 4 overall. Adonis Medina is the top-ranked pitcher in their system according to MLB.com.

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Of all the team’s best pitching prospects, Howard has the best chance of getting called up. Medina and JoJo Romero have not had great seasons and likely would not fare well in the majors. On top of that, Howard has not thrown much during the season due to his injury, which is why he is headed to the Arizona Fall League.

To be fair, it’s unlikely the team opts to bring Howard up to the majors and skip Triple-A rather than sending him to a much lower-stress environment in Arizona. With their playoff odds as slim as they are, the team can’t really afford to test out Howard against major-league hitters.

Further, calling Howard up now would cut into his service time, eventually leading to earlier arbitration eligibility and free agency. It’s unfortunate, but this has become a priority for front offices across the league even if it hurts the team in the short-term.

Howard would also need to be added to the 40-man roster, which is currently full. The quickest would be to move one of the players on the 10-day injured list to the 60-day. No one currently on the 10-day is definitively out for the season and the spot may need to be used for another catcher.

Still, calling up Howard wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. After Smyly’s first two starts as a Phillie, he has a 7.20 ERA, giving up 32 hits and nine home runs in 25 innings. He looked strong in his first two starts but has not done as well since then. Even if Howard performs poorly, it couldn’t be much worse than Smyly in recent weeks.

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The case could be made to call up Howard, but it’s unlikely that it happens. Still, he appears to be on a fast track to the major-leagues and could debut at some point next season if he continues to progress.