Down on the Farm: Do Giants have their next Matt Duffy in the minors?

Tim Cattera/

Down on the Farm: Do Giants have their next Matt Duffy in the minors?

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. 

Giants scout compared Mark McGwire to better Dave Kingman as prospect

Giants scout compared Mark McGwire to better Dave Kingman as prospect

It was clear when watching Mark McGwire at USC that he was set for stardom in the big leagues. McGwire was an eighth-round pick in high school but then dominated for the Trojans. 

When Giants scout George Genovese saw McGwire play in March of 1984, he was blown away.

"This boy has outstanding power," Genovese wrote in his official scouting report. "... I feel he will be a good power hitter as he makes good contact and hits to all field with power. He is a tough out at the plate and it takes a good curve ball or excellent pitch to get him out." 

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As's Matt Kelly notes, Genovese even saw a better version of a former No. 1 overall pick -- Dave Kingman -- in a young McGwire.

"As much power and better contact at the plate than Dave Kingman," Genovese wrote.

McGwire wound up hitting .387 with 32 home runs, 20 doubles and 80 RBI at USC in 1984. And the Giants had a chance to select McGwire with the No. 9 pick in the '84 MLB Draft. Instead, they took outfielder Alan Cockrell, who had nine at-bats in his MLB career and never played for San Francisco.

[RELATED: Why Baer believes 2020 MLB Draft requires 'better scouting']

The A's grabbed McGwire one pick later at No. 10 overall, and he became an instant star. The powerful first baseman hit a then-rookie record 49 homers for the A's in 1987 on his way to winning AL Rookie of the Year. 

McGwire finished his career with 583 long balls. Kingman, who started his career with the Giants and ended it with the A's, hit 442. And Cockrell had two career hits ... none went over the fence.

Giants coaches believe players can get ready for shortened MLB season

Giants coaches believe players can get ready for shortened MLB season

For a few weeks now players have been eyeing the first week of July, hopeful that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association find a compromise that gets the game back on the field sometime around the time fireworks are scheduled to go off.

But every day that passes without a deal is one less day for the staff to potentially get players ready. At some point, that might lead to tension as teams look at the calendar, but for now the Giants still believe they have plenty of time to prepare for a shortened season. 

On last week's "Chalk Talk at Home," pitching coach Andrew Bailey and hitting coach Donnie Ecker said they're confident that Spring Training 2.0 can get their players ready in about three weeks. 

"I think it depends on where these guys are coming in," Bailey said. "I think we can do it in the three-week timespan. We may not be seeing a full workload, 100 pitches or whatever you see. I think that we still have to do some buildup there, but we can definitely get guys ready in that timeframe and be a little bit cautious with back-to-backs and different things and monitor (them). Ideally, the longer the better, for sure, on the pitching side of things."

Ecker said the hitting coaches -- himself, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind -- are looking at a similar timeframe, although they do have more wiggle room. 

"I think we need a lot less time from a physiological standpoint than pitchers do," he said. "The three week (schedule) is kind of a sweet spot for us to get enough live at-bats in."

While it takes some work to get your timing down, the Giants should have more than enough time to get their lineup ready. Buster Posey has often gone into a season with just a couple dozen at-bats under his belt, and the veteran-filled lineup is full of players who won't need much more than that if they're able to play games in their second spring. Pitching machines are so advanced these days that players are able to take unlimited hacks against machine-thrown breaking balls or 100 mph fastballs. Many of the team's veterans have posted clips on Instagram where they're hitting off machines at home. 

It's a bit more complicated for pitchers, but Bailey said he is starting to get calls from players who live in areas that have opened up to the point that you can throw live BP sessions and simulated games against hitters. The analytics staff put together a questionnaire that allows the Giants to track and log throwing programs on a daily basis. 

[RELATED: How would Giants feel playing in front of no fans?]

Bailey is leaning on over-communicating, and the message from the staff has been to over-prepare if possible. Ideally, the Giants would like their pitchers to come in more stretched out than they normally would, giving them flexibility when games start. 

"We'll just get creative with our staff, our usage and make sure that their workloads are okay and healthy," Bailey said. "I think obviously winning is at the forefront of everybody's mind, but keeping our players healthy for 2020 is a priority of ours as well."

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