SAM HOWARD, LEFT HANDED PITCHER
Born: March 5, 1993
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 170
Bats: Right
Throws: Left
Drafted: 3rd Round, 82nd Overall, 2014 (Rockies)
How Acquired: Waiver claim (from Rockies)
College: Georgia Southern University
Agent: N/A

WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
Howard was a third round draft choice of the Rockies and was regarded as a “pitchability lefty,” according to Baseball America.  He made his way slowly through the Rockies’ system, not reaching the majors until he was 25.  He was a starter until 2019, when Colorado moved him to the bullpen.  As a reliever, Howard throws a 92-93 mph sinker and relies heavily on a slider, throwing it more than his fastball.  He’s had reverse platoon splits throughout his career, sometimes significant ones.  The Pirates acquired him on a waiver claim.

2014
R+:  1-3-0, 5.40 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 53.1 IP, 1.7 BB/9, 7.1 K/9

Colorado started Howard off in advanced rookie ball, where he pitched mainly as a starter.  That’s not a very high level for a third round draftee out of college, but he got hit hard, with opponents batting .333 against him.  Baseball America still ranked him 24th in the Rockies’ system.

2015
A:  11-9-0, 3.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 134.0 IP, 2.1 BB/9, 8.2 K/9

Howard moved up to full-season ball and had more success, holding opponents to a 252/297/356 batting line.  He had a reverse platoon split.  BA ranked him 25th in the system after the season.

2016
A+:  4-3-0, 2.47 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 65.2 IP, 3.3 BB/9, 10.0 K/9
AA:  5-6-0, 3.99 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 90.1 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 6.7 K/9

Howard had a strong first half in the hitting-happy California League, including a high K rate.  He had more trouble in AA, with opponents hitting .303 against him there.  BA moved him up to 18th in the system.

2017
AA:  1-4-0, 2.33 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 46.1 IP, 1.9 BB/9, 7.8 K/9
AAA:  4-4-0, 3.89 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 81.0 IP, 3.7 BB/9, 7.1 K/9

Howard made one start in AAA, then went back to AA until mid-June, when he moved back up.  He pitched dramatically better in AA and reasonably well in AAA, considering it was the Pacific Coast League.  He had some control issues for the first time.  He once again had a reverse platoon split.  BA ranked him 11th in the Rockies’ system after the season and Colorado added him to the 40-man roster.

2018
AAA:  3-8-0, 5.06 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 96.0 IP, 3.2 BB/9, 7.5 K/9
MLB:  0-0-0, 2.25 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 4.0 IP, 6.8 BB/9, 2.3 K/9

The Rockies sent Howard back to AAA, where he didn’t pitch quite as well.  The Rockies called him up in June and he made one relief appearance, then three more in September.  He again had a reverse platoon split.  After the season, Colorado removed him from the roster and he re-signed with them on a minor league deal.

2019
AAA:  4-1-1, 3.91 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 50.2 IP, 4.1 BB/9, 11.0 K/9
MLB:  2-0-0, 6.63 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 19.0 IP, 4.7 BB/9, 10.9 K/9

Howard opened the season back in AAA, this time pitching in relief.  He didn’t dominate but was reasonably effective, considering it was the Pacific Coast League in a season in which offenses exploded throughout AAA.  The Rockies called him up in July, optioned him for a couple weeks in August, then brought him back late in the month.  He ended up getting into 20 games with them, all in relief.  At both levels he missed a lot more bats, but in the majors he was plagued by walks and gopher balls, giving up better than one of the latter every four innings.  He had an extreme reverse platoon split, yet the Rockies for some reason used him partially as a lefty specialist.  After the season the Rockies waived Howard and the Pirates claimed him.

2020
MLB:  2-3-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 21.0 IP, 3.9 BB/9, 11.6 K/9

The Pirates activated Howard early in the season and he ended up as one of their main relievers.  He had a stretch of ten scoreless outings in the middle of the season, and otherwise scuffled a little, mainly due to gopher balls.  He allowed a bit less than one every five innings.  Howard’s xFIP wasn’t as good as his ERA, at 4.45.  He relied very heavily on his slider, throwing it nearly two-thirds of the time.  He didn’t give up many hits, with opponents batting only .221 against him, but over half of the hits he allowed went for extra bases.  The tendency toward long hits may be a result of the heavy slider usage, although it also produced a high K rate.  Howard had a slight reverse platoon split.

2021
AAA:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 4.2 IP, 3.9 BB/9, 11.6 K/9
MLB:  3-4-0, 5.60 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 45.0 IP, 6.4 BB/9, 12.0 K/9

Howard beat out Chasen Shreve for a left-handed relief job and got off to an impressive start.  He began throwing his fastball up in the zone and, in the early part of the season, had an extremely high swing-and-miss rate.  He got good results despite control problems until, in a mid-June outing, he gave up six runs while retiring just two batters.  He went on the injured list with a knee problem, which probably contributed to the bad outing.  He came back after 12 days but, in his fifth outing back, gave up five runs in a third of an inning.  After that game he went on the injured list with an oblique strain and missed a month and a half.  He returned at the end of August and pitched decently the rest of the way.  Walks obviously were a problem throughout the season.  Howard had a huge platoon split, holding left-handed batters to a .530 OPS while getting hammered for a .902 OPS by right-handed hitters.

It’d be helpful to see what Howard could do if he stayed healthy for a season.  Without the two 2021 outings in which he apparently was hurt, his ERA was 3.48.  He’s shown he can miss a lot of bats, but needs to throw more strikes.  Howard figured to be in the bullpen in 2022, but he had back problems during spring training and started the season on the injured list.

UPDATE:  Howard returned to the Pirates briefly from rehab in early May, but struggled, with reduced velocity.  The team designated him for assignment to make room for Michael Perez.

CONTRACT INFORMATION
2022: Major league minimum
PLAYER INFORMATION
Signing Bonus: $672,100
MiLB Debut: 2014
MLB Debut: 6/10/2018
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2025
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2017
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2018)
MLB Service Time: 2.113
TRANSACTIONS
June 10, 2011: Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 48th round, 1449th overall pick.
June 8, 2014:
Drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 3rd round, 82nd overall pick; signed on June 12.
November 20, 2017:
Contract purchased by the Colorado Rockies.
November 30, 2018: Non-tendered by the Colorado Rockies and became a free agent.
January 13, 2019: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies.
July 21, 2019: Called up by the Colorado Rockies.
October 30, 2019: Claimed off waivers from the Colorado Rockies by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
May 7, 2022: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

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