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Rockies pitching prospect Sam Howard: 'Charlie Blackmon helped me get mentally stronger'

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In this interview, prospect Sam Howard shares how he struggled with the mental side of his game in Grand Junction and how he's working to overcome a change in his mechanics.

Sam Howard on Media Day back in April
Sam Howard on Media Day back in April
Charlie Drysdale

We're officially a month into the start of the minor league season and some of the players are beginning to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. Guys like Trevor Story and Tom Murphy are reestablishing themselves as dominant contenders in the Rockies organization as both players are batting above .330 with 5 home runs to start their Double-A season.

Then there's catcher Dustin Garneau, among the leader board of Colorado's top hitting leaders, batting 1.001 OPS of with one of the lowest strikeout percentages in the minors.

Meanwhile, there's still a few other players who have the physical gifts, but are still trying to put it all together. Jon Gray can be thrown into this group. The No. 3 overall pick in 2013 has a 9.13 ERA in Triple-A, with the lowest strikeout rate of his career.

Add Sam Howard to this list, the big lefty is waiting in the weeds with a 5.48 ERA to start the year. However, most of that number was inflated with a performance back on May 2 where he allowed 8-runs in just four innings pitched.

Selected in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Georgia Southern University, Sam Howard is a lanky pitcher with a number of working parts in his delivery. The Georgia native stands tall at 6-foot-3, and is listed 170 pounds, although he looks bigger than that.

Coming out of college, Howard was scouted as a finesse pitcher, throwing 88-91 MPH with accurate location on his off-speed pitches. Once he made it to the Pioneer league Howard ratcheted up his velocity to 95-96 and struggled to locate.

I interviewed Sam before the start of the season and honestly was waiting for a breakout performance from the lefty before I shared it. Howard did so in his last start, pitching seven innings of two-hit ball while allowing just a single run to cross the dish. Howard is a pitcher to watch for in the organization because of his size, velocity and handedness, which could eventually give him an inside track into the Rockies bullpen or more.

★★★

Charlie Drysdale: So what's it like being back in the Southeast?

Sam Howard: I'm excited about being back here. I live 20 minutes from Rome, so my family, friends and coaches will be able to come up and watch.

CD: This was your first full spring training, how do you feel that it went?

SH: It went great. I was throwing really well off the mound. Me and coach Brewer were working on a slider. I've never thrown a slider in my life. It's actually coming along really well and it was doing well against hitters in spring training.

CD: In the offseason, did you prepare any differently going into your first full season?

SH: I did, there was a trainer, Mike Berenger of Rapid Sports Performance down in Woodstock, Georgia. Charlie Blackmon, DJ Lemahieu, and Charlie Culberson all go there. So I started going there as soon as I got home and went there the whole off-season. I got a lot stronger. This is the best shape I've ever been in. Talking to Charlie every day when we go in there it really helped me to get mentally stronger. I trained really hard in the off-season and I'm ready to go this year.

CD: Coming out of the draft one of the things scouts said about you was your low 90's fastball, but you painted the corners with it. Last year in GJ it was more mid-to-high 90's and a little wild was there a change in your approach? What happened?

SH: I'm just getting stronger and my velocity is going up. Last year in Grand Junction, it was the mental side that I changed in the off-season. It was all in my head last year, I've changed that. Been throwing really well. It was all in my head with hitters, and this year I'm not scared of nothin. I just throw it in there and force them to hit it.

CD: It's got to be a big step, being drafted and then getting thrown in against pros.

SH: I was put through a lot of trials last year. In my first Short-season they asked me to throw different things in my starts. I had ups and downs, but I learned a lot from it.  Everything I learned last season, I'm taking to heart.

CD: They changed your pitching? Like your mechanics?

SH: My mechanics they have changed, nothing major. In college, when I lifted my leg I was already leaking, falling towards the plate, the Rockies have made me stay back longer so everything's in time. It's actually helped me a lot with location. In spring training I didn't give up any runs or any walks in all my starts.

CD: Do you have any limits this year? Do they have you on a pitch count?

SH: I'm on a 150 innings limit. First half of the season I'm going 5 innings or 75 pitchers, whatever comes first.

CD: What are your goals for this year?

SH: Try to win a Championship and take it day by day, not worry about the future. That's sometimes what I got caught up with in Junction. Thinking about things ahead of time instead of taking it day by day and trying to get a little better every day.

Monthly Stat tracker

Pitching Stars

Name

Age

Tm

G

BF

IP

ERA

FIP

GB%

K%

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

Zach Jemiola

21.17

ASH

6

149

38

2.13

3.54

36.40%

22.10%

0.95

1.66

7.82

Helmis Rodriguez

21

ASH

5

123

28.2

2.51

4.28

48.90%

15.40%

0.94

1.88

5.97

Antonio Senzatela

20.42

MOD

6

127

31

2.61

3.94

44.70%

24.40%

1.16

2.61

9

Grahamm Wiest

23.83

MOD

5

94

21.2

3.32

5.65

44.70%

8.50%

1.25

2.91

3.32

Matt Flemer

24.58

NBR

5

120

29

3.41

4.10

40.00%

10.00%

0.62

2.17

3.72

Pitching Alarms

Name

Age

Tm

G

BF

IP

ERA

FIP

GB%

K%

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

Harrison Musgrave

23.25

MOD

6

130

29

4.34

3.79

42.60%

20.00%

0.93

2.79

8.07

Shane Carle

23.83

2 Tms

6

157

36.1

5.20

4.36

45.00%

15.30%

1.49

0.99

5.94

Sam Howard

22.25

ASH

5

99

23

5.48

3.59

40.60%

24.20%

1.17

1.96

9.39

Johendi Jiminian

22.67

MOD

6

140

32

5.63

3.51

26.80%

20.70%

0.56

3.66

8.16

Jon Gray

23.58

ALB

5

110

22.2

9.13

3.99

53.10%

17.30%

0.79

3.57

7.54

Hitting Stars

Name

Age

Tm

G

PA

Iso

HR

K%

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Trevor Story

22.58

NBR

28

123

0.28

5

24.40%

6

0.360

0.463

0.640

1.103

Jordan Patterson

23.33

MOD

24

104

0.3

3

21.20%

4

0.341

0.423

0.637

1.060

Tommy Murphy

24.17

NBR

26

102

0.29

6

24.50%

4

0.337

0.422

0.629

1.051

Dustin Garneau

27.83

ALB

16

65

0.24

4

12.30%

0

0.345

0.415

0.586

1.001

Raimel Tapia

21.33

MOD

28

132

0.21

3

18.90%

7

0.336

0.371

0.546

0.917

Hitting Alarms

Name

Age

Tm

G

PA

Iso

HR

K%

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Emerson Jimenez

20.5

ASH

26

106

0.09

1

24.50%

9

0.172

0.188

0.263

0.451

Kyle Parker

25.75

ALB

25

104

0.1

2

32.70%

3

0.152

0.235

0.250

0.485

David Dahl

21.17

NBR

26

115

0.07

1

21.70%

9

0.229

0.270

0.303

0.573

Kevin Padlo

18.92

ASH

22

82

0.14

2

29.30%

1

0.149

0.293

0.284

0.577

Pat Valaika

22.75

NBR

21

81

0.07

0

27.20%

4

0.233

0.284

0.301

0.585

Dom Nunez

20.42

ASH

20

79

0.03

0

15.20%

4

0.254

0.321

0.284

0.605

Stats are through 5/9/15.

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