Is Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on the way? It sure feels like it


It has long been a given that Spencer Howard would make his major league debut this season.

Maybe it will happen during the Phillies' coming homestand.

Big rain from Tropical Storm Isaias forced the postponement of Tuesday night's meeting between the Phillies and Yankees in the Bronx. Makeup dates are scarce in this shortened, 60-game season so the two teams will play the game as a part of a doubleheader in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler would be the starting pitchers in those two games. The first game starts at 4:05 p.m.

After Wednesday, the Phils will play 11 straight days, all at home, against the Yankees, Braves, Orioles and Mets.

Because of the doubleheader and the stack-up of games, the Phillies will need an extra starting pitcher in the coming days, perhaps Sunday against Atlanta. The Phils could reach into their bullpen and plug someone like Cole Irvin or Nick Pivetta into that start. Or they could reach down to their reserve camp in Lehigh Valley and bring up Howard. The 24-year-old right-hander is their top prospect and has impressed everyone from Bryce Harper to pitching coach Bryan Price.

"If this kid is the guy we think he is — and we do — then he's going to have a really nice future in Philadelphia," Price said in July. "I would really hope and expect to see him pitching here at some point in (2020) because he really needs the work and I think he's ready to compete at this level."

Maybe that future begins in the coming days. Girardi was noncommittal when asked about Howard's timetable on Monday, but you can bet he will discuss Howard with Price and front office officials during Tuesday's weather shut down.

Howard commands a four-pitch arsenal. His fastball approaches triple digits and his changeup and breaking ball are both top-notch. He has the potential to one day work at the top of a rotation.

Price has been reluctant to speak in those terms, at least as it relates to Howard's ceiling. He'd prefer to let Howard control the trajectory of his own career. But there's no doubt that the pitching coach is high on the young man.

"I stay away from (commenting on a pitcher's ceiling) and I'll tell you why," Price said. "Because when you start talking about assigning expectations, especially if you rank like No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — we don't know what these guys are until they come up here and perform.

"We know that (Howard) would be a top-end prospect in any organization because he has power, he throws strikes, he's athletic, he has a really, really good changeup and breaking ball. The key component there is stuff with strikes, stuff with command. So the sky is the limit.

"In the same respect, you have to get to the big leagues and perform at this level before you define where you are: starter or reliever, No. 1 or No. 5, or somewhere in between. I'll reserve judgment on that and let him pitch his way wherever he gets to."

If Howard pitches well once he does arrive, he will put heat on the back end of the rotation, particularly Vince Velasquez. An effective Howard could push Velasquez to the bullpen. The Phils could benefit from Velasquez's power arm in the bullpen. The question remains: Would Velasquez embrace the role enough to succeed? That's an issue for another day. As it stands now, Velasquez would get a start on Thursday or Friday.

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