By Connor Thomas
All things considered, the Phillies have had a remarkable start to the MLB Season. They are near the bottom of the league in fielding, and near the bottom of the league in strikeouts at the plate. They’re not hitting well, they’re not fielding well, and yet they are still in 2nd place in the NL East and dead even .500 at 22-22. All that to say, the Phillies are succeeding relative to their league standing in some major statistics. But make no mistake, they are treading water, and the starting rotation that has buoyed them in spite of their shortcomings has begun to break down. Matt Moore missed significant time, and now his replacement Vince Velasquez has tingling in his fingers that caused him to miss a start last night. The Phillies can ill afford to go to the bullpen for spot starts considering the inconsistencies of most of the arms in that unit right now. If only the Phillies had a young promising starter in their farm system that has been heralded as a top pitching prospect…
Oh, wait, they do. Spencer Howard has been talked about for years now as a very promising prospect. Since the Phillies parted ways with Sixto Sanchez in the JT Realmuto trade, he has in fact been the Phillies top pitching prospect. He made his Major League debut last year, and though he struggled at points, he showed flashes of stuff before he got shut down with an arm injury. Since that shutdown, the Phillies have been feeding us some narrative that Howard’s arm needs to be coddled, almost a year later. In fact, the organization is still scared to allow him to throw full starts in AAA. It is completely insane that Spencer Howard is not throwing full starts at this point, and almost as crazy that he is not on a Major League roster that has arms like Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, and David Hale making starts. Eventually, prospects have to become players, and the Phillies seem intent on keeping Spencer Howard from getting a chance to make that jump. When the team’s starting rotation was doing well, it seemed like an annoying philosophy to save a young pitcher’s arm. Now, with help needed in the rotation, it looks just flat out negligible.
This might be a hot take, but thank goodness this organization traded Sixto Sanchez. It sounds crazy to say considering that Sanchez has looked like every bit of the premier pitching prospect he was billed as since making his debut with the Marlins, but who knows if the Phillies would’ve even given him a real shot at the Major League level? The organization’s track record suggests that they are far too protective of their prospects, especially their young pitchers. There’s a real chance that Sanchez would still be stuck in the minors if he was never traded. In return at least the Phillies got a player they’re willing to use at the Major League level (yes, this is underselling JT Realmuto who is arguably the best catcher in baseball).
The point to all of this is, the Phillies have a glaring need, and they refuse to call up the clear answer to that need for a reason that seems irrationally cautious. At some point Spencer Howard is going to have to spend extended time pitching in the Majors. There is no good reason why that point should not be right now. He could be just what the Phillies need to round out the back end of a hampered rotation. So, Dave Dombrowski, do the right thing. The fans have been teased for years with a new homegrown pitching prospect that can be a bona fide starter, call Howard up and see if he’s the guy. If he works out, he may even be a big part of a September push for the division. You’ll never know until you give the kid a shot.