As the Rockies look to continue to build their pitching staff from within, Howard is another homegrown lefty who has a chance to contribute in Colorado sooner rather than later, and I caught a glimpse of him in his brief bump to Triple-A Albuquerque versus Reno earlier in the year. Howard is blade thin, but is wirey strong and is an above-average athlete, and stronger than he first appears. His mechanics are relatively simple, and his arm is quick through the high-3/4’s slot. He has some mild crossfire as well that helps to play up the above-average fastball velocity and solid-average secondaries. Howard’s heater sits in the low 90’s, but he can reach back for 94-to-95 mph when he needs to. He gets some flat run to the arm side and some riding life up in the zone, but it’s otherwise fairly straight. His best secondary pitch is the circle changeup that gets late dive and is a real weapon for him versus righties. The arm action does well to sell the pitch, and he has feel to use it both in and out of the zone. The slider has more sweep to it than bite, but he is around the zone with it, and will get some chase when he is able to use it ahead in the count.
Howard has a very aggressive approach on the bump – he’s not afraid to challenge hitters, and when he works ahead he does a good job creating soft contact, which allows him to work deep into games despite the below-average swing-and-miss rates (7.2 SO/9 at Double-A in 2017). The deception in his arm action and delivery do afford him some margin for error, but with the fastball staying on plane and his ground ball numbers being on the wrong side of even (0.71 GO:AO in 2017; 0.68 GO/AO 2016) he will have to get to at least average command to have any kind of consistent impact in a big league rotation. He does pound the zone however, as evident by his 2.0 BB/9 so far this season — so if he can continue to avoid creating his own trouble, there is upside here as a number four starter.
As it stands now, Howard’s fastball command tends to come and go, leading to high pitch counts and mistakes up and out over the plate that he simply won’t get away with in the big leagues. For him to hit his ceiling and be a factor in the rotation going forward, he will need to find some strength gains in the lower half this offseason – which will allow him to hold his velo deeper into starts, and be more consistent with his command.
The majority of Howard’s value for the big league club would be in that swingman role until he can show more consistent ability to work ahead. Expect Howard to get a more permanent bump to Triple-A soon and if things go well there, could be a nice under-the-radar addition to a competitive Rockies team.