24. Sam Howard (228 points, 19 ballots)
Though they are both left-handed starting pitcher prospects, Sam Howard and the man who ranked just below him on the 2019 preseason Purple Row Prospects list, Breiling Eusebio, are markedly different as prospects. Whereas Eusebio is raw, injured, and far away but possesses excellent stuff, Howard is Major League ready and polished but his ceiling is limited to a back-end starter/long man role by a middling repertoire. Of course, “middling” may only be a fair term when comparing Howard to other pitchers who have a MLB cup of coffee, since Howard has already proven he can handle himself at every minor league level.
2018 represented Howard’s first year on the 40 man roster after working his way up for four professional seasons, where he represented valuable starting pitcher depth for the Rockies just a phone call away in AAA. Howard spent 48 days with the big club over three stints in 2018, though in that time he only threw four innings for the Rockies, allowing a run on five hits with three walks and a strikeout in five appearances (all in relief). Meanwhile, the 6’3” hurler struggled in AAA Albuquerque, posting a 5.06 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 21 starts over 96 innings with a 7.5 K/9 rate and 3.2 BB/9 rate. Those numbers are forgivable in a tough Pacific Coast League environment against older hitters, but they didn’t make Howard stand out as a prospect who needed more big league time either.
2080 Baseball provides a look at Howard from 2016 when he was in AA:
Howard works at 91-94 mph and can hit 96 with his fastball, though with less sink than he showed early in his pro career. His groundout/airout ratio shrunk from 1.6 in his first two seasons to 0.7 in his next two. There are nights when his deceptive changeup is his best pitch and it’s the main reason he has been more successful against right-handers than left-handers.
Howard’s slider gives him an average third offering. While he provides consistent strikes, his lack of a true plus pitch means he has to be precise with his location. He could be a No. 4 starter if he can improve his slider and command.
John Sickels ranked Howard 12th in the system as a C+/B- prospect before the 2018 season:
Looks like a finesse lefty on paper but fastball can get up to 95, also has a good changeup; slider is generally average and can get flat; potential fourth starter who might be more dominant on per-inning basis if used in bullpen
Though he remains prospect eligible, Howard wasn’t PuRPs eligible when voting on this list started. That’s because the Rockies non-tendered him at the end of November, only re-signing him to a minor league deal after polling had begun. Obviously that hurt him among early voters, but the message sent by that demotion was also harmful as the 25-year old southpaw may rightfully be seen as a player the Rockies don’t really have in their major league plans anymore. After all, he’s probably fourth in line for a rotation slot for Colorado in case of emergency, maybe lower at this point.
Then again, Howard is still pretty much the same prospect that got ranked in the top 10 of the system in some national outlets before 2018. In an organization with less strong starting pitcher depth than the Rockies, he’d be more of a factor. The low risk and close proximity back-end starter/long man floor represented by Howard was too hard for me to ignore though, as I ranked him 21st in the system on my personal list with a 40 Future Value tag as a MLB contributor.