San Jose Giants play-by-play broadcaster Joe Ritzo knows San Francisco's Advanced Single-A affiliate as well as anyone. This season, he's taking in the play of a talented outfield with top organizational prospects such as the Giants' first pick in 2016, Bryan Reynolds, and the powerful Heath Quinn.
While he of course has his eyes on the big names, there's an under-the-radar prospect in San Jose that Ritzo has become quite fond of.
"I really like the young shortstop here, Ryan Howard," Ritzo told Alex Pavlovic on The Giants Insider Podcast. "He flies under the radar here because of Reynolds and Quinn and the outfielders, but all he does is hit."
That last statement has been particluarly true with Howard this season. Fans witnessed Madison Bumgarner get surprisingly rocked to nine runs in four innings during his rehab start on Wednesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium. As that was far from predictable, Howard's line for the night was. He went 2-for-3 with a double and one RBI.
Howard's approach to the game brings back memories to Ritzo of two names that should certainly catch the attention of Giants fans.
"It reminds me of a Christian Arroyo or a Matt Duffy where he's not hitting a bunch of home runs, but he's finding ways to put balls in play," Ritzo says. "He's really hard to strikeout this year and he's just a good, hard-nosed player who does everything the right way."
After a 3-for-3 night on Thursday, Howard has now racked up 102 hits in 74 games, which ranks second in the California League. He owns a .328 batting average (also second in the California League), .360 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage. As Ritzo says, Howard is far from a power hitter, but he has knocked six balls over the fence to go along with nine doubles this season.
On defense, Howard is seen as an average shortstop. After only playing one position last season, Howard has also found time at third base this year in 23 games, but has seven errors at the hot corner to only two in 50 games at shortstop.
For his pure hit ability and his long-term position not completely locked in, there's another player he reminds Ritzo of that forced his way up to the Giants this year.
"Maybe he's someone like an Austin Slater where if you keep hitting .300 every year, eventually you're going to get a shot," said Ritzo.
The Giants liked Howard so much, they drafted him twice. As a sophomore-eligible player the Giants tried to grab him in the 31st round of the 2015 draft, but he played with the collegiate national team instead and returned to Missouri. That was clearly the right call and the Giants stayed on their guy, selecting him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft.
"It's the kind of player the Giants have had a lot of success drafting," says Ritzo, an understatement to say the least with the organization's recent history of drafting middle infielders.
Duffy was never close to a name on a prospect list. Joe Panik didn't garner a bunch of talk either. Ranking systems have been friendlier to Arroyo, yet even he hasn't been seen as a prized prospect despite making the bigs this year at 21 years old.
If you look at Baseball America, Howard is nowhere among the Giants' top 30 prospects. For MLB Pipeline, he's No. 30. Like Duffy and other Giants infielders have proven in the past, none of this matters. If you hit, that's all that counts. Luckily for Howard, that's all he's been doing for San Jose.
Around The Horn
-- ICYMI: Here are the top Giants minor leaguers from June. Yes, 35-year-old Justin Ruggiano made the list.
-- Melvin Upton Jr. joined for the Sacramento River Cats for the first time on July 1. He went 0-for-3 and is apparently dealing with yet another injury after just one game.
-- Jarrett Parker is struggling in his rehab with the River Cats. The outfielder is now only hitting .208 in 14 games with Sacramento.