Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Entering the third year of his pro career, it's been a tale of two summers for Colorado Rockies prospect Sam Howard. After being drafted in the third round in 2014, the left-handed pitcher from Georgia Southern struggled at rookie level Grand Junction, going 1-3 in 14 games (13 starts) and limping to the end of his first season with a 5.40 ERA and a .333 opponents' batting average.
"Man, I went through some struggles that year of ball on the field," Howard told Purple Row before spring training.
The Georgia native wasn't used to that coming out of college, and to struggle in rookie ball after the Rockies nabbed him with their third choice in 2014 was surely a wake-up call.
"I think he recognized he can’t just be the guy that throws it by everybody," said Chris Forbes, the Rockies' manager of player development, in an interview with Purple Row at spring training.
"He’s got to be able to move and locate on both sides of the plate, he’s got to be able to rely on his breaking ball, and that’s what he did in Asheville."
Last summer in Asheville, then—a 1,689 mile drive from Grand Junction—was quite literally another world for Howard. Twenty-five starts and 134 innings later, the lefty walked away with 11 wins, just a 3.43 ERA in a hitter-friendly home park, a .252 opponents' batting average, and a 122:32 K:BB ratio.
More than that, he came away with a routine and plan for the future of his pro career.
"The pitching coordinators just told me to work hard this offseason and go into spring training where I left off in Asheville," Howard told Purple Row over the winter. "I was clicking on all cylinders at the end of the season in Asheville. I had myself a daily routine on the field that was really working for me and I am still using it this offseason into spring training."
The offseason was important for Howard, too, like it is for so many young big league hopefuls far away from the publicly visible minor league affiliates.
"We brought Sam into instructs to try to keep refining [that routine], and he had a great instructs," Forbes said about seeing Howard in Scottsdale over the winter. "Expect for him to keep staying within the process."
That process of adjustment and development isn't just about Howard, though; much of it falls on the Rockies' coaches and coordinators, as the lefty told us about Asheville's pitching coach, Mark Brewer.
"I had a few rough starts every now and then in the first half of the season," Howard said earlier this winter. "It took me a little while to really understand what [Brewer] was teaching me and be able to feel my body do it on the game mound, but the second half of the season was pretty solid. I had done everything Brew was teaching me. I could take everything in to my starts and feel when I did something wrong, and I could make in-game adjustments."
To Forbes, it's that maturity from Howard which predicts future success more than anything else.
"We preach a lot about the co-pilot and the pilot," Forbes said. "These coaches, they are your co-pilot, but you have to pilot. And when guys start doing it, it’s because they’ve taken that step, and they get it."
"That’s where Sammy is," Forbes added. "He’s in that good transition period right now."