Name: Brian Howard
Height/Weight: 6’9’’, 205
How Acquired: Selected in the 8th round of the 2017 MLB draft.
Brian Howard is hard to miss with his 6’9’’ frame and outgoing personality. His 2017 debut with the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters was also hard to ignore, as Howard helped lead the Lake Monsters to the post-season with a standout season. Can Howard parlay his strong professional debut into a rise through the Oakland A’s system?
After a strong three-year career at TCU that included a 10-win season as a junior, Howard heard his name called in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. Howard elected to return to TCU for his senior season, hoping to lead his team to the College World Series and move up in the draft. He accomplished just that, winning 12 games for the Horned Frogs and helping to take them to Omaha while also going in the eighth round of the 2017 draft to Oakland.
Howard’s senior year was up-and-down during the regular season, but he saved his best for last for the Horned Frogs. Howard threw seven one-run innings in a College World Series elimination game against Texas A&M in his final collegiate start. He struck-out 12, walked none and kept his team’s title hopes alive with a brilliant performance. Although TCU wouldn’t win the title, Howard’s performance will be long remembered in Fort Worth, Texas, where Howard was known as “Big Game Howie”.
Once Howard’s college season came to an end, he was assigned to the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters. Although Howard threw 105 innings for TCU, he looked strong with the Lake Monsters, throwing 31.1 regular season innings and adding another 7.2 innings in the post-season. During the regular season, Howard had a 1.15 ERA and a 29:1 K:BB. He didn’t allow a homerun and he held opposing batters to a .200 average. Howard continued to come up big in the post-season, allowing just one run over his two outings.
Although Howard isn’t overpowering, he generates a decent amount of swing-and-miss, striking out nearly a batter an inning with Vermont and striking more than a batter an inning in college. A’s Scouting Director Eric Kubota says that Howard’s height and delivery make it difficult for hitters to get a good read on him.
“He has four pitches and he definitely has the height to create deception,” Kubota said after the draft. “We think he has a chance to be a very good starting pitcher.”
A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman likes Howard’s aggressive approach on the mound.
“If you saw him pitch in the College World Series, you saw what kind of makeup he has and how aggressive he is on the mound,” Lieppman said late in the season. “He’s a tough competitor. We love that part of it.”
Howard has a simple rock-back-and-fire, over-the-top delivery that he is able to repeat. His fastball sits at 87-90, topping out at 91, but the angle at which he releases the ball allows the fastball to get on hitters quickly. Howard has a well-developed four-pitch mix: a four-seam fastball, a cutter that sits 85-87 MPH, a sharp-biting curveball that sits in the 76-79 MPH range, and a developing change-up that he threw with more confidence during his stint with Vermont.
Many tall pitchers struggle with command, but Howard was able to locate well during his pro debut. He not only walked only one in 31.1 regular season innings, but he also worked well in the lower-half of the strike-zone, racking up a 42% groundball rate. Howard was effective against both righties and lefties.
Early in Howard’s TCU career, the coaching staff felt he didn’t have the physical stamina to work deep into games. He responded by adding significant physical strength before his junior season and threw 98.2 innings that season. In 2017, he jumped to 148 innings between college and the pros (post-season included). Howard is still very thin even with the added strength, so his ability to work deep into games will be something to watch closely in the coming years. He battled some arm soreness in 2016 but was healthy in 2017.
As a college senior sign, Howard was old for his level last season. He will turn 23 in April. Given his experience pitching in big games in a big conference, Howard is a strong candidate to jump to High-A Stockton in 2018, where he would be pitching at an age-appropriate level.
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