Ty Howington is gone, but let’s hope he’s not forgotten for the sake of the Reds and Homer Bailey.
My keeper league has a minor league system which is so freaking deep thanks to these rules that allow you to protect farmhands for up to five years. So every now and then a name pops up that is truly a blast from the past.
This happened most recently at our draft last month when the commissioner was reading out the list of unprotected players. Then, all of sudden, he said his name…Ty Howington. I hadn’t heard that name uttered in so long that I made a note to myself to find out what the hell ever happened to Ty Howington.
Cincinnati’s first round pick in 1999, taken 14th overall out of a high school in Vancouver, Washington, Howington was a power lefty projected to be a top-of-the-rotation arm that could anchor the Reds’ staff for years to come.
As the Reds were wont to do in that day, the team had this tender young arm — a pitcher they had invested $1.75 million in — on an accelerated program, starting Howington out at full-season Low-A ball in his first pro season at the age of 19.
The 6’5″, 220-pounder struggled with his command in his pro debut in 2000 in the Midwest League, walking 86 against 119 strikeouts in 141 2/3 innings, while going 5-15.
Unfortunately, Howington would never throw that many innings in any one season again.
The following year, Howington was much improved, pitching very well at three levels, although he had more issues with his control each step up the ladder. This was also the first season in which he had to miss some time. Still, in reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old, he established himself as the Reds’ top pitching prospect and one of the more promising young arms in baseball.
In 2002, Howington began at High-A and again reached Double-A, but his results at both levels slipped thanks to elbow problems that limited him to 17 starts for the season. Howington actually improved his control that year, but was simply more hittable as his velocity kept slipping, a fact most easily identified by severely reduced K rates.
The next season, it was more of the same. The season got off to a shaky start as tendonitis in his shoulder slowed his spring training. Howington pitched decently at High-A and then was smacked around at Double-A after a July promotion. Injuries limited his ability to do much at Double-A, however, and in just 14 1/3 innings he issued 20 walks, so clearly all was not right.
The Reds must have been getting this sense by then as well, as they inexplicably left him off their 40-man roster that fall. Stranger yet, no one else took a chance on him.
That’s when the shoulder problems really started becoming major. In May 2004, Howington required surgery to repair a torn labrum and wound up missing the entire season. In spring training 2005, the Reds had to shut him down again with stiffness in his shoulder, a problem that again led to surgery in April to loosen his shoulder capsule.
Howington didn’t return until August, making three rehab starts in the GCL.
At the height of his promise, Howington looked like the future ace of a heralded Reds’ staff that was projected to include Bobby Basham, Chris Gruler, Ryan Mottl and Dustin Moseley. Of course, of that fivesome, only Moseley has found his way to the majors, and he did so as an Angel. The others either fizzled out (Mottl) or, like Howington, were sidetracked by injuries (Basham and Gruler). Reds’ fans know all too well the difficulty this organization has had in developing young arms in recent years.
The lessons of the Ty Howington story are very much relevant today as the Reds find themselves with another top drawer arm in Homer Bailey, the top pitching prospect in the game, in our opinion. Cincy can ill afford to let another glorious opportunity to produce a potential staff ace slip through its hands because of injury, abuse, mismanagement or any other reason.
As for Howington, last March, the Reds finally clued in on the fact that incessant health woes would prohibit him from ever delivering on his promise, so they released him. Almost a year to the day later, his owner in my keeper league dumped him, a signal that his career was truly over.
Now just 26, it appears Howington is out of baseball for good. In five minor league seasons, he went 22-35, 4.08, walking 231 and striking out 414 in 454 1/3 innings. In the end, a career WHIP of 1.45 is all you need to know about Howington. Obviously injuries played a huge rule in that, but the fact that he struggled with his command right from the get go suggests that Howington would have had a tough time living up to his draft status even if healthy.
Even more shocking, you’d actually have to shell out $6 to buy an autographed Ty Howington baseball card. Apparently, someone out there still thinks he has some value.