A Look at Sam Howard, Prospect

Sam HowardThis offseason, ATVL will be taking a look at former Valley Leaguers who are showing up on prospect lists for their organizations. Sam Howard, who played in Staunton in 2012, will be our first “feature.”

Howard was drafted by the Rockies in the 3rd round of the the 2014 draft, and worked his way to Triple-A in 2017. He looks like he will help the big league club in the near future.

First of all, milb.com named Sam the best left handed starting pitcher in the Rockies’ system (they name the players with the “most outstanding” seasons at their respective positions, regardless of age or prospect status. For example, Stephen Cardullo (Covington 2007) was named last year, even though he was 29).

Here is what Michael Leboff wrote about Sam:

Howard made it to Triple-A in the middle of June thanks to a tremendous first half with Hartford. At the time of his promotion, the 2014 third-round pick owned a 2.33 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 46 1/3 innings. Those numbers came back to earth in the Pacific Coast League, but Howard still posted a more than respectable 3.89 ERA in the hitter-friendly circuit.

“Much like Almonte, he dominated Double-A,” [Rockies senior director of player personnel Zach] Wilson explained. “Once he was able to really lock down the usage of his changeup and tighten up his breaking ball a little bit, it was clear he was ready for a new challenge. He was able to fight through his challenges and grow from that. Both Sam and Yency [Almonte] are Major League pitchers that are well on their way.”

“Major league pitchers that are well on their way!”

Additionally, Sam ranks #12 on Colorado’s top 30 prospects list published by mlb.com. (I have to tell you, dear reader, that I used to use Baseball America’s rankings only, but mlb.com is free, and they update their lists more often…)

So here is what the site has to say about Sam, who was the #18 prospect in the preseason:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 45

After Howard worked mostly with an upper-80s fastball at Georgia Southern, the Rockies helped him add more balance to his delivery when he signed as a third-round pick in 2014. The adjustment improved his velocity and command and he responded by topping the low Class A South Atlantic League in strikeouts (122) and strikeout rate (8.2 per nine innings) in his first full pro season. He followed up in 2016 by dominating high Class A hitters in the first half but got hit harder following a mid-June promotion to Double-A.

Howard now works at 91-94 mph and touches 96 mph with a fastball that had quality sink in the past, though his groundout/airout ratio shrunk from 1.6 in his first two seasons to 0.7 in his third. His deceptive changeup with fade is the main reason he has been more successful against righties than lefties. He’s working to improve his slider to improve that imbalance, and he’ll flash some solid ones on occasion.

Howard has thrown strikes throughout his pro career, though he learned in a rough pro debut and again in Double-A that he’ll get punished if he leaves pitches up in the strike zone. That will be especially true at Coors Field. If he can refine his slider and his command, he could contribute in the back half of Colorado’s rotation in the not-too-distant future.

I had no idea that the young man can run his fastball up to 96 mph! That’s, obviously, pretty impressive.

I imagine Sam will be joining the list of major league alumni from the league very soon!

Sam Howard pitching

Sam pitching in Hartford


Minor League News

On this day in which there are no Valley League games to discuss, let’s take a look at four bits of news about former Valley Leaguers in the minor leagues!

  • Yesterday, Ryan Schimpf (Luray 2008) was named the Hitter of the Week for the Triple-A Pacific Coast League by milb.com! Ryan hit 500/586/1.292 in 6 games for El Paso, along with 9 runs, 11 RBIs, 5 walks, 4 doubles, and 5 home runs. Wow. For the season, Ryan is now hitting 345/407/717 in 145 at-bats. I think it’s time for the Padres to call him up!
  • Joe Bennie (Strasburg 2011) was also named Hitter of the Week by milb.com yesterday- for the High-A California League. Joe hit 565/600/826 in 6 games, with 4 runs, 6 RBIs, 3 doubles, and a home run. Joe is now hitting 294/370/417 in 218 at-bats for Stockton.
  • Joseph Odom (Winchester 2012) hit two home runs last night for High-A Carolina, which is wonderful, of course, but the remarkable thing about his performance is that the home runs came in the same inning. He drove in 5 runs, too. On the year so far, Joseph is hitting 275/333/470 in 149 at-bats.
  • Matt Solter (Strasburg 2012) was recently signed as a minor league free agent by the San Francisco Giants, and he made his minor league debut on June 4th for the Low-A Augusta Greenjackets. Matt started on the mound, and allowed 6 hits, 1 earned run, 0 walks, and struck out 2 in 5 innings.

Congratulations to all four players!

Joseph Odom

Joseph Odom

McElroy, Flores Named Hitters of the Week

Each week, milb.com names a hitter and pitcher of the week in each minor league. This week, two former Valley Leaguers were awarded the honor: Casey McElroy (Waynesboro 2009) and Rudy Flores (Haymarket 2010)!

McElroy was given the award in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League after the following: .500/.484/.750, 14-for-28, 5 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBI, 11 R, 1 BB, 7 K. Casey has been on a total tear- he’s had two or more hits in 9 of his last 10 games! Overall, he’s hitting 412/429/569 in 51 at-bats, along with 12 runs, 14 RBIs, 6 doubles, a triple, and a 3/9 BB/K ratio. He’s only one step away from the major leagues!

Flores won the award in the High-A  California League after hitting .375/.412/.781, 12-for-32, 4 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 10 R, 2 BB, 9 K. Rudy is actually down one level from 2015, when he played in Double-A Mobile. But he’s sure been lighting up High-A again in 120 at-bats, putting up the slash line of 342/388/642, with 23 runs, 32 RBIs (in only 30 games!), 9 doubles, 9 home runs, and a 11/34 BB/K ratio.

Congrats to both!






Three Named Org All-Stars

Three more Valley Leaguers have been named an “organization all-star” by milb.com!

Two are less-heralded on this site, while the third has received plenty of attention, as he made his major league debut in 2015.

First, the two from the St. Louis Cardinals. Jacob Wilson (Luray 2009) was named the Cardinal all-star at third base, and Austin Gomber (Luray 2012) was named the left-handed starter all-star by Kelsie Heneghan. Their writeups:

Third baseman — Jacob Wilson, Springfield (34 games), Memphis (89 games): Following a Jacob Wilson Memphis 2015breakout campaign in 2014, Wilson produced another dominant year. While he missed time while participating in the Pan Am Games, the 25-year-old led the organization with 18 homers and tied Voit with 77 RBIs.

Wilson spent most of the season at third base but also took reps at second and in left field as he provides flexibility for the Cardinals down the road.

“Jacob has the versatility defensively and has moved through the system with steady production at every level,” [Cardinals director of player development Gary] LaRocque said.

Left-handed starter — Austin Gomber, Peoria (22 games): In his first full Minor League season, Gomber led Cardinals southpaws with 140 strikeouts while besting the organization with 15 wins as he Austin Gomber Peoria 2015shared Pitcher of the Year honors with Reyes.

“Austin was selected co-winner of the Cardinals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award after his strong year in the Midwest League,” LaRocque said. “He challenged hitters well and showed good command.”

Gomber got better as the season went on, with August being his best month. The 22-year-old held Midwest League foes to two runs — one earned — on 14 hits and seven walks while striking out 32 over 25 2/3 innings in four starts in the summer’s final month.

Both from Luray, but a few years apart. Wilson may make his major league debut in 2016, and Gomber, with another dominant year, will start showing up on more prospect lists!

The third player, the more heralded one, is former Harrisonburg Turk Mac Williamson (2011). Mac made his MLB debut in 2015, and also played in the Arizona Fall League. Don’t be surprised if he makes the Giants’ opening day roster in 2016. His paragraph, written by Robert Emrich:

Utility — Mac Williamson, Richmond (69 games), Sacramento (54 games): A year after being limited to 23 games following Tommy John surgery, Williamson advanced all the way to Triple-A. The mac-williamson-2013-mug-bm25-year-old combined for 43 extra-base hits, including 13 homers, and finished fourth in the system with 73 RBIs while putting up an .801 OPS in 123 games. After struggling early in his Pacific Coast League stint, San Francisco’s No. 13 prospect homered seven times in his final 44 games with the River Cats.

“We asked Mac to make some adjustments mechanically in his swing, and we think he did a great job,” [Giants director of player development Shane] Turner said. “It’s the ability to control your emotions and understand the bigger picture. It’s easy for me to say, but if you’re 1-for-15, it’s hard to keep applying those adjustments. I thought [hitting coach] Andy Skeels did a great job with him by keeping his mind in the right place. He worked on those things religiously, worked with Skeels postgame in video. he’s moving in the right direction.

“Mac’s a strong-willed guy. He’s been through a lot in his career, going through Tommy John, he’d have to remind himself every now and then about the bigger picture. Really good makeup.”

Congratulations to all three players!

White Named Houston Org All-Star

Tyler White 2015 Houston AstrosTwo former Valley Leaguers were named in the Houston Astros’ Organization All-Stars article over on milb.com- Tyler White (Haymarket 2010) and Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011). White got his own write-up, while Devenski was an “honorable mention” at right-handed pitcher.

White was named the all-star at the Utility/DH position, along with the following writeup:

Not that you’d want to, but White can’t be ignored any longer. The 997th overall pick in the 2013 Draft, he had his biggest year yet with the Astros, hitting .325/.442/.496 with 14 homers and 99 RBIs at two stops. He walked more times (84) than he struck out (73) and was actually better at the higher level (.362/.467/.559), where he was named PCL Offensive Player of the Postseason by MiLB.com. The 25-year-old saw time at both first and third this season but is not incredibly adept at either spot. His bat did plenty of talking though.

Author Sam Dykstra is right- Tyler can’t be ignored any longer! Although Sam also hints at the potential problem with White; no one is sure where he can play, if anywhere, in the field.

My guess is that both White and Devenski will make their major league debuts at some point in 2016!

Howard Named Colorado Org All-Star

Sam Howard Asheville 09_12_2015Sam Howard (Staunton 2012) has been named an organization all-star for the Colorado Rockies on milb.com!

This is what Tyler Maun wrote about Sam, who was named the top left-handed starter in the Rockies’ system:

Just like (Antonio) Senzatela’s slider gave him a knockout pitch in California, Howard’s did the same to a South Atlantic League-leading 122 K’s in North Carolina. With an 11-9 record and 3.43 ERA, Howard also faced the fourth-fewest baserunners per nine innings at 11.15.

Sam did indeed have an excellent year in 2015. With the above 122 strikeouts, he only walked 32, and a 3.43 ERA is tremendous in the tiny ballpark at Asheville.

Let’s watch for even better things out of Sam in the future!

Gonzalez Named Baltimore Org All-Star

Jay Gonzalez 2015 Frederick KeysThe minor league season is over, and the major league season is winding down, too. Minor League Baseball’s website has begun its post-season coverage by naming an all-star at each position for each major league franchise. They release a new team’s all-stars almost every day.

For Baltimore’s list, a former Valley Leaguer has been named: Jay Gonzalez (Harrisonburg 2011)!

Jay played at two levels in 2015- for Low-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick (where he joined Matt Wease, who was working for the Keys’ front office). Milb named him one of the outfield all-stars.

This is what Danny Wild wrote about Jay:

The 2014 10th-round pick ascended two levels this year, hitting .268 with 42 RBIs, 34 steals and a .381 OBP. Though Gonzalez had no homers, he led the system in steals and ranked fifth with 125 hits.

“Really good at Delmarva in his first full season, and when he got promoted to Frederick, his numbers weren’t quite as good, but he got on base and walked a lot,” Graham said. “His OBP was good and he puts good at-bats together. He puts pressure on the other team.”

Sounds like what worked for Rico Noel (Covington 2008) all the way to Yankee Stadium. Hopefully Jay can duplicate his success at higher levels in the future!