Scouting Report: Ben Howard

On Saturday the Florida Marlins traded pitcher Blaine Neal to the San Diego Padres for right-handed pitching prospect Ben Howard. Padres Insider's own publisher, Denis Savage offers Marlins fans a scouting report on their latest acquisition.

Ben Howard
Vital Stats:
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: April 6, 1978
Birth Place: Danville, Illinois
Height: 6-2 Weight: 190 lbs.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: Drafted by the Padres in the 2nd Round of the 1997 amateur draft.

RHP Ben Howard's .243 opponent average at Triple-A was third among Pacific Coast League starters in 2003. Yet, Howard went 7-9 with a 4.55 ERA.

Howard, a second-round pick in 1997, came off a catastrophic 2002 season in which he was the lone survivor of a spring car crash that killed two of his friends, including outfielder Mike Darr. He also injured his elbow that summer but made his major league debut. A fastball once clocked at 99 mph is down to the low 90s, but he has three plus pitches and has greatly improved his control after leading his league in walks in each of his first four seasons.

For Howard, the problem has never been strikeouts, it has always been control. Coming into 2003, Howard amassed 610 career minor league punch-outs in 585 innings. However, in those same 585 innings, Howard walked 449 batters. This year, in 130.2 innings with Portland, Howard struck out only 68 while walking only 49. Obviously the walks-to-innings pitched ratio is vastly improved, but the decrease in strike outs was not an equal trade-off.

Often when a pitcher's numbers fall drastically there are injury concerns. Tye Waller, the Director of Player Development for the Padres, assured that Ben was not injured in 2003. He said, "Ben had a bit of rough delivery and that in smoothing out Ben's delivery; he lost the over-powering effects of his pitches. For Ben to have success, he needed to be effectively wild."

Waller also noted that it was encouraging that Ben's hits per innings pitched ratio remained below 1-to-1 (Ben allowed 118 hits in his 130.2 innings). Ben's career hits allowed total now stand at 626; well below his 715 career minor league innings.

The last question is how Howard will handle being sent back down to Minors. Many pitchers who make it to the big leagues and get sent down never make it back. The main issue for Howard in 2003 was the long ball. If he can limit the big hit, he will be fine. His ERA was actually better in the Majors than it was in the Minors last season. Howard is still learning how to pitch effectively after toning down his mechanics to improve his pitch location. He did lose speed off his fastball, but it could prove to be a huge win for him in the end. He is the top candidate to be pitching in the Bigs come 2005.

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