At this point, the Philadelphia Phillies should just let top pitching prospect Spencer Howard be a part of their rotation whenever the season starts.
I won’t even try to project when the Philadelphia Phillies will start playing real games in 2020, but one thing is clear. What have they got to lose by starting the season with Spencer Howard in the rotation?
He’s not a finished project, but the unique beast of this shortened 2020 season (assuming we get one) lends itself to all sorts of decisions you wouldn’t make under normal circumstances. And Howard has the raw talent to excel in his first taste of the majors, one that could prove to be more useful than in a typical season.
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Think about it; if the Phillies had a tentative plan in place to call Howard up later in the year to give him 100 or so innings, he could now get just about that same amount while pitching close to a full season. In this case, you’d really be maximizing the potential return on a guy that major league hitters haven’t seen yet. It’s a rare and exciting opportunity.
This is all assuming that Howard keeps up his conditioning and there are no health concerns about him when MLB lifts its suspension. Barring that, the Phils need to give him his shot, and there shouldn’t even be any innings limits to worry about.
If the concern about when to call up Spencer Howard (or any young player) is service time and its future bearing on arbitration under MLB’s “super two” rule (Kris Bryant is the poster boy for it), this is the year that you can all throw that out the window. MLB has yet to rule on what date they might be looking at this year, so teams should be doing what’s best for themselves right now rather than worrying about years down the road.
A few weeks ago, I tried to make the argument for Ranger Suarez as the Phillies’ fifth starter this year. And I still believe him to be a more palatable option than Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. But circumstances have now changed drastically, with Howard offering the kind of short-term upside that Suarez can’t compete with. I do think, however, that Suarez should still be in line for some starts this season, as he should be the first man that the Phils turn to in the event of injuries or ineffectiveness from their other starters. I’m looking at you, Jake Arrieta.
The Phillies do run some degree of risk by exposing Spencer Howard to top level bats at this juncture of his career. And there’s at least a small chance that it could effectively ruin him if they don’t navigate this situation correctly (Gavin Floyd jumps to mind as a textbook example of how not to handle a young pitcher).
But teams with iffy outlooks for the 2020 season are all getting a boost by the fact that the 162-game schedule is going to be significantly shortened. The Phillies fall into that group, so why not use the most powerful weapon in their arsenal? Other teams around MLB might be thinking the same thing. The Phillies can’t afford to fall behind by confining themselves to boring and conventional thinking.
Spencer Howard will be an exciting player in Philadelphia at some point. Let’s start the clock early and have him in the rotation as soon as we play ball in 2020.