While Phillies fans were down in sunny Clearwater, Florida, Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard was in the backfields doing drills. Howard was held back from taking the mound early in Spring, despite having the big league camp invitation. While the plan was to hold Howard back a bit in the hopes of him helping the Phillies down the line in 2020, that line just might be the start of the season.
In Saturday's Philadelphia Inqurier, Scott Lauber points out that the impact of Howard could be much greater in a delayed season:
But amid the nearly unprecedented uncertainty for the sport, this much is clear: Time, the Phillies’ enemy in terms of their plans for Howard this season, suddenly is on their side.
An eight-week hiatus would mean that spring training won't resume until mid-May and the season won't begin until the first week of June. And those are best-case projections. If the virus isn't contained until July or August, the entire season would seemingly be in jeopardy. So it would be conceivable, Lauber says, that Howard could start the season in the Phillies starting rotation.
Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inqurier spoke to Phillies manager Joe Girardi after his Grapefruit League debut:
“You really get excited about that arm,” Girardi said. “His ability to pitch deep into games, swings-and-misses. I’ve watched his bullpens and they’ve been good and crisp. For him to be able to carry it out here his first time, that’s a positive.”
Catcher J.T. Realmuto regularly speaks of Howard's arm being special.
With the Phillies season delayed and almost surely going to be truncated in some way, we can easily think about the missed prime of Aaron Nola and Realmuto. But perhaps this will open the door for Howard. One of the biggest challenges is often sustaining the stamina of a team throughout the whole six months.
If this season is going to be just four months long, could that help the Phillies avoid a September swoon? It was the September drop off in back-to-back seasons that ultimately cost Phillies manager Gabe Kapler his job. The best available talent, going full throttle for four months could mean the Phillies are a playoff team.
So, should the Phillies find themselves with four months to win the National League East, perhaps Spencer Howard should be let loose.