A second-round pick in the 2017 Draft, Howard became the first pitcher from Cal Poly to have a real impact in the big leagues since Bud Norris reached Houston in 2009. Like Norris, Howard’s move from the bullpen to the rotation in college helped his profile as an amateur, and while Howard has missed time with a shoulder issue in 2019 and was shut down during his big league debut because of the shoulder, he did make six starts and showed off some of the premium stuff that has made him a top pitching prospect.
Howard brought his four-pitch mix with him to Philadelphia, starting with what can be a very lively four-seam fastball. It averaged 94 mph in the big leagues in 2020, topping out at 97 mph, but he’s been up to 99 mph in the past, like during his dominant turn in the Arizona Fall League. He throws it with above-average spin rates, with an ability to miss bats up in the zone. Howard has both a slider and a curve and relies on the former more than the latter, missing a ton of bats in 2020 with it, though some scouts think using his curve more could help him take another step forward. His changeup is his best secondary offering most of the time, a fading offspeed pitch with depth and downward action, though it wasn’t as effective during his debut.
For most of his time in the Minors, Howard has been in and around the strike zone with all four pitches, but his walk rate spiked a bit in 2019, and he walked 3.7 per nine with the Phillies a year ago. Assuming health and better command, he still has the stuff to be a successful big league starter.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 50 | Overall: 55
When Howard moved from the bullpen to the rotation for Cal Poly as a redshirt sophomore, it allowed his Draft stock to skyrocket, eventually landing him of the 2017 Draft. Though he missed a chunk of 2019 with a shoulder issue, he did reach Double-A, then made up for lost innings as one of the most dominant pitching prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
Howard has four potential out pitches at his disposal. He was touching 99 mph during his AFL stint and sits very comfortably in the mid-90s. It has a ton of life in the strike zone and he has the ability to elevate it up to get swings and misses. His breaking balls are two distinct pitches and on any given day, he can use either as out pitches, with his slider a shade better than his curve. The right-hander’s changeup has taken a huge jump forward and it was one of the nastiest secondary offerings in the AFL. He’ll throw it at any point in the count and his confidence in the pitch, which has fade, depth and downward action, has risen as he’s thrown it more.
The only small question about Howard is regarding his command. He struggled a bit with it during the Fall League, but he’s shown the ability to fill up the strike zone in the past with all four pitches and shows very good understanding of hitters and how to get them out. Assuming his command continues to improve, he has the chance to be a frontline starter.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 55
A reliever in his first year at Cal Poly, Howard moved into the rotation as a redshirt sophomore and took off, landing in the second round of the 2017 Draft and signing for below pick value. He rode a bit of a roller coaster in his first full season, but finished as strongly as perhaps any pitching prospect in baseball, including a one-walk, complete-game no-hitter in the South Atlantic League playoffs.
Howard's stuff and command took a big step forward in the latter stages of 2018, though there is still work to be done in terms of his overall command. Late in the season, he was up to 98 mph with his fastball consistently, sitting very comfortably in the 94-95 mph range, throwing his heater with plus life in the zone. His two breaking balls can be inconsistent and blend into each other at times, but he will show an above-average slider and a distinct curveball, with them occasionally looking like a cutter. His changeup has the chance to be at least average.
He misses plenty of bats and has the stuff to be a frontline starter. The only thing that could hold him back is his command and control. If he can build off of his improvements in finding the strike zone as well as consistent mechanics on his breaking stuff, he could reach that ceiling in the near future.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Cutter: 50 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
Howard spent his first year plus at Cal Poly coming out of the bullpen, but when he moved into the rotation 2017 during his redshirt sophomore year, teams sat up and noticed and his Draft stock soared. Looking like a potential future big league starter, he landed in the second round and signed for below pick value with the Phillies, then impressed with his stuff during his pro debut in the New York-Penn League.
The Phillies limited him innings-wise during that debut, but definitely opened some eyes by striking out 12.7 per nine over the summer. By the end, he was sitting 93-95 mph with explosive finish in the strike zone that allowed his fastball to play as well as anyone's in the system. He has an above-average slider and a solid cutter, and while his changeup is below-average he does have some feel for it. The right-hander generally threw strikes in college, though he struggled a bit with his control during his pro debut.
Howard's first impression with Williamsport has the organization excited to see what he does for an encore. He attended strength camp last fall, with everyone eager to see what he can do when lengthened out over his first full season.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 55 | Cutter: 50 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45
Howard spent much of his Cal Poly career as a reliever, but raised his Draft stock in his redshirt sophomore year in 2017 by moving into the rotation and pitching well as the Mustangs' Saturday starter. The Phillies got him for a below pick value bonus and sent him to the New York-Penn League to start his pro career.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander has a four-pitch arsenal that dominated the Big West Conference this past spring. His fastball has been up to 93-94 mph consistently and he backs it up with an above-average slider he throws in the 80-84 mph range. He'll show an upper-80s cutter and has feel for his changeup as well.
Howard's arm works well and he throws strikes. With a clean delivery and strong frame, it appears he has what it takes to be a starter long-term. Knowing he is comfortable in a relief role is a good thing for the Phillies to have in their back pocket.