1. Spencer Howard
The Phillies starting pitching was one of their strengths last year. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin seem to be suited for a strong 2021 campaign, especially with the hire of Caleb Cotham as the pitching coach — who believes each could win the Cy Young Award. Of course, three high-quality starters are rendered useless with a terrible bullpen, as seen this past season, but if Spencer Howard steps up in 2021 at the back end of the rotation, only good things should follow.
Howard, the team’s highest prospect entering 2020, underwhelmed his rookie year. In 6 starts, he struck out 23 batters in 24 1/3 innings, pitching to a 5.92 ERA. Concerns about Howard include a worrisome dip in velocity and the lack of stamina to go even five full innings. The good thing is, Howard was just a rookie. He can most certainly develop into the player he was projected to be.
He did flash some brilliant pitches that were a part of his scouting report, which includes a power fastball, fading changeup, and two plus breaking pitches — his slider and curveball. It’s nice to see that some of his pitches have serious potential to rack up strikeouts in the bigs, and even garnered a compliment from MVP Freddie Freeman. Unfortunately, the Phillies have failed to significantly develop arms similar to Howard’s in pitchers Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.
Cotham, who watched the work ethic and success of All-Stars Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, and Sonny Gray in Cincinnati last year, as well as assist another young arm in Tyler Mahle develop, should be excited to work with Howard and his arsenal. Entering his second season, Howard can finally look to make a name for himself.
Howard draws some similarities to Jack Flaherty, one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Flaherty was also among the team’s top prospects the year they debuted, and exhibited a mid-90s fastball with a fading changeup, while also boasting a slider and curveball. Both had ERAs hovering around six in their rookie campaigns, while lacking control and ability to last more than 5 innings. The good news is Flaherty was fourth in Cy Young voting in 2019 and showed major progress in his second season and beyond.
2021 projection: 27 games, 11-8 record, 154 innings pitched, 170 strikeouts, 3.40 ERA, 1.08 walks and hits per innings pitched