Op­po­site paths to sta­tus as prospects

Pitch­ers Howard, Se­abold on track for jobs with Phils

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tom Housenick

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.”

CHERYL PURSELL/READ­ING FIGHT­INS

Spencer Howard is the Phillies’ top pitch­ing prospect.

GE­ORGE YOUNGS/READ­ING FIGHT­ING PHILS

Read­ing right-han­der Con­nor Se­abold missed nearly three months ear­lier this year with an in­jury.

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