Phillies: Eflin, Howard deservingly among top breakout arms

Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

A recent article tabbed two Philadelphia Phillies right-handed starting pithers among the top 10 most likely to break out coming season in Major League Baseball — Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard.

Eflin and Howard — two young arms with exceptionally high ceilings — have yet to fully reach the expectations placed upon them. But, with a little normalcy in terms of timing and training this offseason, they have a great chance to take that next step as predicted.

Keep in mind, this list also included the likes of super-prospects like Casey Mize from the Detroit Tigers and Nate Pearson of the Toronto Blue Jays. Eflin and Howard are in good company.

The ‘eye test’ showed that Phillies RHP Zach Eflin made strides this past season.

Between the two Phillies pitchers, Eflin is the more seasoned — having been at least a part of the team’s rotation since 2016.  We saw the best version of Eflin this past season, as he posted a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time, increased his K/9 to above 10, and dropped his BB/9 by half a point.

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Aside from the basics, Eflin literally improved every single one of his metrics, and the “eye test” confirmed what the statistics show on paper. He began using his fastball as more of an out pitch, running the mid-90s two-seamer in two-strike counts, while utilizing his slider more often — relying less on a fourth and fifth offering that often resulted in mistakes earlier on in his career. A couple of things to consider: batters swung at pitches outside of the strike zone nearly 7% more often last season, and Eflin decreased the launch angle of all batted balls against him by nearly half from his previous seasons — thereby generating more ground balls (and fewer home runs).

Nothing is a guarantee in this league, but Eflin is still only going to be 27 this season, and the Phillies can pencil him in as the No.3 starter for the time being.

A full offseason will only help Spencer Howard go up from here.

Howard has far less of a track record than Eflin, but generated far more hype coming out of the farm system. A top-100 prospect for the past few seasons, Howard’s MLB debut was underwhelming compared to the numbers he racked up in the minor leagues. Granted, Howard never even got an inning in Triple-A and was also never given a true start (only two of his starts went over 70 pitches) — but it’s easy to say we expected more.

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An actual offseason should put Howard in rhythm, because being jostled around and not pitching for months at a time due to COVID-19 did not help, either. It’s the stuff Howard possesses that will carry him to fulfilling his potential. He sat in the mid-90s without effort, continuously running the heater up to 97-98 — despite being erratic with command. His secondary offerings were not sharp, but despite this, Howard flashed a ridiculous cutter/slider combination in terms of movement and velocity. Stuff alone won’t get you outs at the big-league level. If Howard can harness the explosive stuff, expect the strikeouts to pile up.

Just having a couple of guys being recognized for their potential is a boost to the morale of the fanbase, especially given the questions surrounding the pitching staff. The starting rotation remains a work in progress, but with Jake Arrieta being let go and the Phillies not pursuing top free-agent arms, it seems as though the reigns have been passed over to the homegrown arms.

If all goes well, you might see three All-Star caliber arms, if not more, in the starting five.

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