This offseason, ATVL will be taking a look at former Valley Leaguers who are showing up on prospect lists for their organizations. Sam Howard, who played in Staunton in 2012, will be our first “feature.”
Howard was drafted by the Rockies in the 3rd round of the the 2014 draft, and worked his way to Triple-A in 2017. He looks like he will help the big league club in the near future.
First of all, milb.com named Sam the best left handed starting pitcher in the Rockies’ system (they name the players with the “most outstanding” seasons at their respective positions, regardless of age or prospect status. For example, Stephen Cardullo (Covington 2007) was named last year, even though he was 29).
Here is what Michael Leboff wrote about Sam:
Howard made it to Triple-A in the middle of June thanks to a tremendous first half with Hartford. At the time of his promotion, the 2014 third-round pick owned a 2.33 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 46 1/3 innings. Those numbers came back to earth in the Pacific Coast League, but Howard still posted a more than respectable 3.89 ERA in the hitter-friendly circuit.
“Much like Almonte, he dominated Double-A,” [Rockies senior director of player personnel Zach] Wilson explained. “Once he was able to really lock down the usage of his changeup and tighten up his breaking ball a little bit, it was clear he was ready for a new challenge. He was able to fight through his challenges and grow from that. Both Sam and Yency [Almonte] are Major League pitchers that are well on their way.”
“Major league pitchers that are well on their way!”
Additionally, Sam ranks #12 on Colorado’s top 30 prospects list published by mlb.com. (I have to tell you, dear reader, that I used to use Baseball America’s rankings only, but mlb.com is free, and they update their lists more often…)
So here is what the site has to say about Sam, who was the #18 prospect in the preseason:
Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45
After Howard worked mostly with an upper-80s fastball at Georgia Southern, the Rockies helped him add more balance to his delivery when he signed as a third-round pick in 2014. The adjustment improved his velocity and command and he responded by topping the low Class A South Atlantic League in strikeouts (122) and strikeout rate (8.2 per nine innings) in his first full pro season. He followed up in 2016 by dominating high Class A hitters in the first half but got hit harder following a mid-June promotion to Double-A.
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.
I had no idea that the young man can run his fastball up to 96 mph! That’s, obviously, pretty impressive.
I imagine Sam will be joining the list of major league alumni from the league very soon!