Opposite paths to status as prospects
Pitchers Howard, Seabold on track for jobs with Phils
On the surface, Spencer Howard and Connor Seabold have plenty in common.
The 23-year-old California natives are dominating at Double-A Reading after missing a large chunk of this season because of injuries.
The right-handers project to be major league starting rotation guys — Howard at the top end, Seabold at the bottom — as early as next season.
And, the back-to-back picks in the 2017 draft (Howard in second round, Seabold in the third) are on the verge of picking up valuable minor league baseball playoff experience.
“It’s what we play for,” Reading pitching coach Aaron Fultz said Tuesday. “Granted, it’s Double-A, not Philly. But it’s still playoff baseball, what we work five months for.”
The obvious similarities end there for Howard and Seabold.
Howard’s commitment to baseball is relatively new. There was no burning desire when he left high school to walk on at Cal-Poly, 30 minutes from his San Luis Obispo, California, home.
“I was just going with the flow,” he said. “I just kind of went with [baseball], and here we are.”
Seabold’s life-long goal has been to be a major league pitcher. His dedication to the sport in high school and college were to get to this point where dream and reality are nearly one.
“As far back as I can remember,” he said, “I had a ball, bat or glove in my hand.”
Howard’s path took shape when he met Jim Clem, a pitching guru in the West Coast League after high school. Clem began Howard’s polishing process with instruction and encouraging words. Howard’s curveball and change-up showed promise. His fastball had consistent life.
The introduction to Clem came at a perfect time in Howard’s life. He needed direction, though he wasn’t stressing about it. His pitching skills were untapped. He enjoyed playing shortstop more throughout high school.
Howard was away from home for the first time and playing with guys with whom he had no previous connection.
“[Clem] presents information in a way that’s not condescending,” Howard said. “He was very helpful. That’s a perfect spot for him to be, to help pitchers find out what they’re supposed to do, to get into mechanics more.”
Seabold’s learning curve became evident after he was drafted by the Phillies. He finished three seasons at CalState Fullerton with a sub-3.00 ERA.
“In college you can get away with throwing one pitch most of the time,” he said. “I almost did for the most part.
“You get to pro ball. It’s about mixing up pitching sequences, getting to know scouting reports, learning how to be a complete pitcher.”
Seabold experienced that early in his first full season of pro ball at high-A Clearwater, then again later in 2018 when he jumped to Double-A Reading.
By the end of last season (2.31 ERA in his final seven starts), he was ready for the next step in his progression.
Then came an injury during the first workout this spring in Reading.
“It was humbling, for sure,” Seabold said. “It was hard not to get caught up in seeing some of my teammates — I was so happy for them, guys moving up to Triple-A and the majors — but in the back of my head, I’m like, ‘Dang, that could have been me.’”
By the end June, Howard and Seabold were back pitching in meaningful games.
There was rust, but their patience and persistence paid off. Their efficiency and effectiveness quickly returned.
Seabold’s seven stellar innings in Monday night’s win over Bowie were his best to date.
“[His first Double-A start this year] in Erie, he was kind of feeling for it, nibbling a little bit,” Fultz said. “He decided to step on the gas, be more forceful with his execution.
“[Monday night], he was still stepping on the gas again right away, then he decided to wait a minute, take it off. When he slowed down a little bit and got right, it was really easy for him.”
Howard possesses a seemingly effortless delivery to go with four soon-to-be stellar pitches (fastball, change-up, curve, slider).
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder got through high school with a fastball and change-up. His curve and change-up took monster steps forward under Clem’s watchful eye. His slider may end up being his best offspeed option.
“Sometimes I wonder if he knows how good he is or can be,” Fultz said. “His stuff is absolutely electric. He’s got three really, really, really good pitches and [a slider] that’s probably going to be better.
“It’s a work in progress, but he’s definitely on the right track.”
Howard continues to work on feeling his way through his mechanics, understanding what his body and the ball’s movement are telling him.
All Double-A pitchers are exposed to more analytical data and video than ever before. It’s a matter of taking what they need and combining it with what they are feeling on the mound.
“There’s always a bunch of information being thrown around,” Howard said. “If you think you’ve got this all figured out, you’re going to screw yourself because someone better than you is going to come along and take your job.
“[Fultz] is very good coaching you to go with what you feel. He doesn’t care how you get to a release point, but if you can repeat it, that’s big.”
Pitching in the upper levels of the minor leagues in an organization starving for starting pitching, Howard and Seabold know opportunities await.
Seabold’s feel is solid. Howard’s repertoire is special.
Together, perhaps, they can soon inject life into a major league rotation.
“They’ve shown signs of being able to dominate hitters when everything is clicking right,” Phillies director of pitching development Rafael Chaves said. “They maybe are a year away. We don’t have to rush them.”
This season has taught both of them about patience and perspective.
“I’ve never been one to say I have to have this ERA with this many strikeouts,” Howard said. “If I get a little better every day, have a feel for my stuff every day, everything will work out.”
Spencer Howard is the Phillies’ top pitching prospect.
Reading right-hander Connor Seabold missed nearly three months earlier this year with an injury.