Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Ryan Howard embraces being an underdog


Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Ryan Howard embraces being an underdog

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.”

What 2019 Giants would have looked like over shortened MLB schedule

What 2019 Giants would have looked like over shortened MLB schedule

It wasn't hard to predict that the negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association would get nasty, but over the last few days, the twists have gotten a bit silly.

The owners have been pushing for an 82-game season, and on Sunday the players finally made their counter. Their return-to-play proposal included a season of 114 games. A day later, the owners leaked to ESPN's Jeff Passan that they might counter with a season of about 50 games. 

Guess what happens to be the midpoint between the two latest proposals? That's right, exactly 82 games.

The simple explanation here is that the owners believe they'll lose money for every game that's played without fans, and if the players aren't going to renegotiation their per-game salaries, the owners will make sure the entire pie is much smaller. The players, naturally, are pushing for as many games as possible, knowing that every extra week is that much more money. 

On and on they'll go, but sources on both sides still believe there will ultimately be a resolution. It just will take longer than first expected. 

As the sides continue volleying back and forth, let's bring it back to the Giants. We know how last season ended up over 162 games -- 77-85 -- but what would the 2019 Giants have looked like over a shortened season? 

50 Games

MLB is not going to play a 50-game season. That's an absurd notion, one that will force players and teams to spend a month scrambling to get health protocols in place only to rush through a season in less than two months. 

A season anywhere near this short would turn the playoff race upside down, eliminating teams like the 2019 Nationals, eventual champions who lost 31 of their first 50 before getting hot. The Giants weren't much better last year. They were 21-29 and somehow already 11 1/2 games out in the NL West. 

In the 50th game last season, Drew Pomeranz started and saw his ERA rise to 6.45. Joe Panik was the leadoff hitter that day, Tyler Austin batted third and Mac Williamson played left field. Mike Yastrzemski had not yet been called up. 

Over an actual 50-game season, you would expect some wild swings in stats -- perhaps someone batting .400 or posting a 1.30 ERA -- but there were no Giants last year who would have clearly benefited. Pablo Sandoval led the 50-game Giants with a .304 average and was tied with Brandon Belt with seven homers. Jeff Samardzija led the starting staff with a 3.27 ERA. 

There were no crazy outliers. The 50-game Giants were pretty boring in 2019.

82 Games

In theory, an 82-game season should put the Giants on the fringes of the playoff race. They don't have the talent to stick with the Dodgers or even the Diamondbacks for 162 games, but cut that season in half and some crazy stuff might happen. You remember that spirited run last summer, right? 

Well, in an 82-game season the Giants would need to get into gear a bit earlier than they did last year. That July stretch got them briefly thinking about the Wild Card race and altered their deadline strategy, but it also started a few days after the midpoint of the season. At 82 games, the Giants were 35-47 and had the second-worst record in the National League. 

At the halfway (plus one) point, Sandoval led the Giants in WAR and was tied with Belt and Kevin Pillar at 10 homers. Alex Dickerson, just called up, was batting .367. Shaun Anderson (3.86 ERA) looked like he might be locking down a future rotation spot. Again, there aren't really wild swings here, though. 

114 Games

Now we're talking. The Giants got going last July, briefly thrusting themselves back into the playoff race. On August 6 they were 56-58, just 3 1/2 games behind the Phillies for the second Wild Card spot. The Giants got off to a rough start last year and ultimately finished well out of the race, but for a brief moment there -- one that included the proposed 114-game mark -- they were frisky. 

From a player standpoint, not much sticks out. Yastrzemski was the main benefactor of the season going past 114 games, as he had 10 homers at this point and would double that total. We had not yet been introduced to Mauricio Dubon or Tyler Rogers. 

[RELATED: Gabe Kapler encouraged by players speaking up]

To give you a true idea of what a 114- game season looks like, consider that the Giants released Panik on this day last year. A season of this length is plenty long, but there's also a good stretch left to play, and that's shown in the playoff races. 

If the 2019 season had ended after 114 games, the Phillies and Cubs would have snuck into the picture. Gabe Kapler likely would have kept his job. Instead, he's with the Giants, trying to figure out what his team might look like over 50 games, 82, or perhaps even 114. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow declares 'it is our duty to protest'

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow declares 'it is our duty to protest'

Mike Krukow knows how to get people's attention. Ever since he went from the field to the broadcast booth for the Giants, Krukow's unique voice has carried weight. 

Krukow made his voice loud and clear Monday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac" show when he spoke on the protests across the world stemming from the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, in police custody in Minneapolis. An impassioned Krukow stated his disgust for police brutality as someone whose family has a long history in law enforcement.

“My dad was a cop, my grandfather was a cop. All my uncles were cops. My sister was a cop,” Krukow said. “What we have seen in the death of George Floyd sickens me to the core. I’m just completely rocked about this. It is our duty to protest. It is not our duty to loot, that is as disgusting as the crime itself. But it is our duty to stand and you gotta say, ‘This is wrong.’ You have to do it. We’re being asked to tone down the rhetoric in our press, and that is B.S. Now more than ever the outrage has to be written. And it has to be written by us. By you and me, we have to write our letters to our congressmen and our congresswomen and our senators and the president, you gotta let everybody know you’re not happy. This cannot go on. This is disgusting.

“This is 2020 and we are watching this, this senseless murder of a man who could not defend himself and was saying as he laid down on the ground, ‘I can’t breathe.’ It’s appalling.

“You have to tell your children and you have to tell your grandchildren, ‘This is not right.’ Let them see how mad you are. Let them see how disgusted you are. That’s the only thing we can do. We can protest this, we have to. This is not right. I’m not well with this and I don’t know anyone who is. It’s disgusting.

“All of my friends, it’s all we’re talking about. This has just gone on too far. We can’t be silent now. We cannot. You’ve gotta protest. You’ve gotta say everything that you mean and mean it. And put it on paper and send it out and let your children and grandchildren see how upset you are.”

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After calling for more protesting and disavowing looting, Krukow, 68, spoke on the side of police officers and law enforcement as well. He clearly is sickened by Floyd's death, and also is against any violence towards police as well. 

“I fear for the safety of our police,” Krukow said. “It’s not easy. It’s harder now than it ever has been. When you have a badge, you’ve gotta wear it responsibly. You cannot use it to be a bully or be a murderer. You can’t.

“It sickens the people who do police work for a living. They watch this as we watch this. They know how hard it is out there and perhaps they’ve seen things that none of us have ever even dreamt of. What we watched in the death of George Floyd, it’s absurd -- it’s how does this happen? How do we let this happen in our society? It’s so upsetting. It’s upsetting to everybody. It does not justify looting. It doesn’t. It should encourage protest. I totally believe that is what we have to do.

“The looting is not right. That’s just criminal. Now our police are more at risk than ever. Our society right now -- think about 2020, this year sucks. It absolutely sucks.

"We’re watching something now and going through an experience together as we have done so well together in dealing with COVID, and now we need to come together and we need to resolve what’s going on across this country.”

[RELATED: Kapler encouraged by MLB players speaking against racism]

With protests happening throughout the Bay Area, the Giants boarded up windows at Oracle Park on Monday. 

San Francisco implemented a curfew beginning at 8 p.m. PT on Monday, which lasted until 5 a.m. Tuesday.