Ryan Howard, not the former National League Most Valuable Player or the higher honor of Hottest in The Office at the 2005 Dundies, has plenty of reasons to be motivated. When asked what his biggest goal is this season in Double-A with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the shortstop gave a glimpse inside of his mindset as a player.
“Every time I’ve stepped on the field, I’ve always felt like I have a lot to prove,” Howard said before Richmond’s home game on Tuesday. “I wasn’t a first-rounder, didn’t get drafted in high school, didn’t get a whole lot of offers out of high school — so it’s more of just trying to keep a chip on my shoulder every day and get out there and prove to people that I belong here and not get complacent.” Instead of reeling off a stat line, Howard has a message for the rest of the league — he’s attacking every pitch, every play, every game.
The psyche Howard brings as a player has turned into steady results the past two seasons. Last year in San Jose, Howard improved his stats in every which way. He ended with a .306 batting average, .739 OPS, nine home runs and 161 hits in 127 games played. So far through the Flying Squirrels’ first 28 games, the 23-year-old has raised his game at the next level. Howard has a better batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.359), slugging percentage (.425), and OPS (.784) than what he finished with in 2017.
What has been most impressive from Howard the past two seasons in his consistency at the plate. Here are his batting averages by month the last two years: April .323, May .315, June .348, July .316, August .234, September .364; April .288, May .385. Only twice has Howard had a month hitting under .300 in that span and August of 2017 was the one disappointing month he has put together, slashing .234/.269/.333.
Howard attributes his play to the words his father has always pushed upon him before every season, “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.” More than anything, Howard has found a routine and believes trusting that each day at the yard has slowed the game down for him.
“I take pride in being consistent,” Howard said. “I don’t wanna be a guy who gets real hot or gets real cool. I want the coaches to know what they get when they put me in there.”
Moving up from Single-A San Jose to Double-A Richmond has looked like an easy transition in the scorebook, but Howard admits this is a much different game. No longer are pitchers rearing back and looking to simply light up the radar guns. Every starter can pinpoint his pitches for strikes and every reliever can jog of out the bullpen and pull an instant out pitch from his pocket.
“Here it’s more you have to pick a pitch or pick a location. It’s more you have to execute a plan here instead of using your natural ability,” Howard says. “It’s more mental here than last year.”
Outside of higher competition, another dimension Howard faces is the home park known as The Diamond. In San Jose’s Municipal Park, Howard hit .315 with a .751 OPS compared to .297 with a .727 OPS on the road last season. It hasn’t been home cooking for Howard in Richmond. At The Diamond, Howard is hitting .250 with a .627 OPS in 14 games.
“I mean, I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s kind of crushing in BP,” Howard said with a half-hearted laugh. “The ball doesn’t go here. But you don’t wanna change what you’re trying to do. I’m trying to see a good pitch and hit a line drive.
“Obviously some balls here that would be doubles or homers in San Jose are outs, but it’s all about realizing that was a good swing and not beating yourself up about it.”
The advantage has come from away games. Stepping into enemy territory, Howard is bashing the ball to a .370 batting average and .933 OPS in 14 games. “The good thing is on the road there’s a lot of places that are hitters’ parks too, so you try to take advantage of those.” Mission accomplished.
Brandon Crawford was never a Top 100 prospect. Neither was Joe Panik. Howard was named the Giants’ No. 17 prospect by Baseball America after the 2017 season and is currently ranked as the team’s No. 24 prospect by MLB Pipeline. While he hasn’t received even close to the recognition as a prospect San Francisco’s middle infield duo did in their time, Howard, looking like pre-injuries Matt Duffy 2.0, could be the next unheralded Giants name to know.
“For me, the way I’ve always look at it is I don’t care what someone has to say about me, as long as I believe in myself. But yeah, looking at that [prospect rankings], it kind of fires you up a little bit. I feel like I’m getting a little overlooked here.
“I enjoy it though.”