10. Sam Howard (677 points, 34 ballots)
Sam Howard makes his top 10 PuRPs debut thanks to his proximity and production in 2017. Howard wasn’t really on the prospect radar outside of his 3rd round draft pedigree (in 2014) until his strong 2016, in which he earned a midseason promotion from High A (in the hitter-friendly California League) to Double-A ball, throwing 901⁄3 innings at the latter level.
After a cameo appearance in Triple-A to start the year, Howard built on that 2016 success in 2017 with the Double-A squad. The 24-year-old lefty hurler was given nine starts against age appropriate competition, during which he had a 2.33 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 7.8 K/9 rate, and 1.9 BB/9 rate in 461⁄3 frames for the Yard Goats. The 6’3” pitcher’s 3.68 FIP indicated that his numbers were a little fortunate, but nonetheless Howard earned a promotion to Triple-A in mid-June.
In Albuquerque, Howard faced a difficult pitching environment against hitters who were on average 2.6 years older and was unable to maintain his strong numbers from Double A. In 15 games with the Isotopes, Howard’s 3.89 ERA over 81 innings on the surface was acceptable in that environment. His 4.44 FIP, 7.1 K/9 rate, and elevated 3.7 BB/9 rate are worth noting as indicators that he may have been fortunate to post that ERA. The results were strong enough that Howard was added to the 40 man roster in November and looks to be a rotation depth option for the Rockies in 2018.
Here’s some video of Howard from 2016 in Hartford courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Howard was ranked 9th in the system by Baseball Prospectus, receiving a likely 45 role grade as a back-end starter:
The Good: Pitchability lefty, thy name is Sam Howard. His stuff probably shouldn’t have worked as well as it has, given the environs he’s pitched in, but Howard wrings a lot out of a low-90s fastball, and an average slider and change. The fastball has some deception and natural cut to it, and he’s good at keeping it down in the zone to both sides of the plate. The slider plays well off the fastball—although it will act more like a cutter at times—and makes Howard a tough match-up for lefties.
The Bad: Pitchability lefty, thy name is Sam Howard. This stuff has its limitations. This profile usually has a better changeup. There’s enough change here to start—or be an effective crossover pen arm—but the overall stuff profile is just average, and if he isn’t keeping the fastball down, he’s very hittable.
The Risks: The stuff has worked everywhere so far, but it’s not overwhelming and his home games are going to be in Coors Field.
Howard is currently ranked 12th in the system by MLB.com:
Howard now works at 91-94 mph and touches 96 mph with a fastball that had quality sink in the past, though his groundout/airout ratio shrunk from 1.6 in his first two seasons to 0.7 in his third. His deceptive changeup with fade is the main reason he has been more successful against righties than lefties. He’s working to improve his slider to improve that imbalance, and he’ll flash some solid ones on occasion.
Howard has thrown strikes throughout his pro career, though he learned in a rough pro debut and again in Double-A that he’ll get punished if he leaves pitches up in the strike zone. That will be especially true at Coors Field. If he can refine his slider and his command, he could contribute in the back half of Colorado’s rotation in the not-too-distant future.
A polished back-end starter prospect like Howard who is knocking at the door of the Show is definitely a valuable asset for this system, worthy of being placed 9th on my personal ballot
Given his proximity and 40 man roster slot, Howard is clearly a rotation option as early as this spring for the Rockies, depending what the team does with players like Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman. It seems likely that at some point in 2018 he will get the call to the Show, though the when is highly injury/opportunity dependent.