ATLANTA - Spencer Howard is starting on Friday night, but he will not be pitching for the Phillies, and it does not sound as though the prospect will be in the major-league rotation at the start of next season.
“I think he’s probably going to need more time in the minor leagues,” general manager Matt Klentak said Wednesday night.
Howard will start Friday in the Arizona Fall League, as he returns to the mound for the first time since the end of the minor-league season. Howard is expected to make five starts in the Fall League, which runs through the end of October.
The 23-year-old right-hander logged 78 innings this season, including the playoffs, and posted a 1.78 ERA in 13 starts with high-A Clearwater and double-A Reading.
“He had such an abbreviated season this year. As impressive as it was, we’re sending him to the Fall League to capture some of those innings that he missed when he was on the injured list this year, to build up his workload in such a way that he can have a full-season or even an extended-season workload next year,” Klentak said.
The Phillies could have promoted Howard to the majors this month, with the team chasing a wild-card spot with a thin rotation. But it never seemed as though he was considered a realistic option. Klentak, when asked whether the Phillies considered promoting Howard, said, “We talk about a lot of things.”
Howard will join the team some time in 2020, but probably not on Opening Day. Keeping Howard in the minors for the beginning of the season will also allow the Phillies to prevent Howard from becoming a free agent for an extra year.
The Phillies, as they upgrade their rotation this winter by acquiring one or two starters, will need to keep a spot for Howard to claim early in the season.
“One of the big challenges in baseball right now is the difference in the ball itself. I think it’s going to be important for him to get comfortable with the major-league ball, whether that’s spring training or at the triple-A level, before we have confidence that he’s ready for the next step and that he has the confidence that he’s ready for the next step,” Klentak said. “None of that should diminish our confidence in him to be a very good pitcher at the major-league level and, hopefully, in short order.
"We do think he has a very bright future ahead of him, but we also need to make sure we do the right thing for him developmentally, and we’re hopeful that his positive progression will continue in the fall.”