Ryan Howard

Seven Giants prospects who could reach major leagues in 2019 season

Seven Giants prospects who could reach major leagues in 2019 season

The Giants' 2019 roster is still full of veterans who fans have watched for years. Look around and you'll see the likes of Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and more. 

But there's a youth revolution that's taking shape with an improved farm system. 

The San Jose Giants will be the most prospect-loaded team in the system with catcher Joey Bart leading the way, though there's still plenty of names to know that are more major-league ready.

Some names on this list made their MLB debuts in 2018, while others would reach the milestone this season. 

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Giants prospect Ryan Howard (not that one) looks to create his own path

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Giants prospect Ryan Howard (not that one) looks to create his own path

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Giants prospect Ryan Howard is used to getting letters that include cards for the other Ryan Howard, but two years ago, the mixup was taken to extreme levels. 

Howard was playing a minor league game in Stockton when an autograph-seeker actually walked up and handed him a card for the former National League MVP. The two are both from the St. Louis area, but other than that they have little in common but their name. 

“I kind of looked at it and laughed,” said Howard, the young infielder. “And then I handed it back to him.”

It’s rare that someone makes the mistake in person, but three or four times a year, the 24-year-old opens up his mail at the ballpark and finds a card for the Ryan Howard who hit 382 homers in 13 seasons for the Phillies. Last week, the Giants held a meeting with members of the MLB Players Association and one member of the group came up to Howard and admitted she thought the former Phillies star had signed a minor league deal with the Giants.

Howard was sent a Phillies card earlier in camp and had it displayed on his locker in the Scottsdale Stadium clubhouse. 

The Giants’ Ryan Howard has a sense of humor about the confusion, though. He actually thinks it boosted his career a bit. 

“It’s cool, and I honestly think that growing up it kind of helped me as far as going to showcases,” he said, smiling. “People always remembered my name.”

Howard is now trying to make his own name, although even that effort includes a comparison to an established big leaguer. Giants people believe the shortstop is an underrated prospect, comparing him to Matt Duffy, another middle infielder who was never highly touted but worked his way into a solid big league career. This is one comparison that makes a lot more sense to Howard. 

“I love being compared to a Matt Duffy type,” he said. “I’ve always had respect for guys that work hard to get where they’re at and maybe aren’t the most physically gifted. But it’s kind of like, hey, I don’t care what these guys say and what the prospect rankings say, I’m going to go go out and focus on me and I know the rest will take care of itself.

"I try not to worry about rankings and that stuff too much. I know that if I play well and put up good numbers, it’ll all fall into place.”

The Giants liked Howard so much that they took him twice in the MLB draft, and he signed after going in the fifth round in 2016. He has put up a .287/.335/.391 slash line in the minors, and batted .273 last season in Double-A with 32 doubles. The Giants are hopeful more power develops as Howard, a good contact hitter, matures. That's another area where the Duffy comparison comes in. 

Howard has primarily been a shortstop in the minors, but spent the offseason doing work at second and third to increase his versatility. The Giants are set at shortstop at the big league level, but they don’t have much middle infield depth at the upper levels of the minors, and Howard has put himself in position to get a shot soon.

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ryan Howard embraces being an underdog]

He’s ready to introduce Giants fans to their own Ryan Howard. 

“It’s kind of cool in some ways having the same name as a guy that’s been an MVP,” he said, “But hopefully I can kind of make my own path, too.”

2019 Giants Position Preview: Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik have company

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2019 Giants Position Preview: Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik have company

SAN FRANCISCO — When Joe Panik broke through and solidified a spot alongside Brandon Crawford, it looked like the Giants could be set up the middle for a decade. They even came up with a name for the duo, Crawnik, which the organization uses often on social media. 

With new leadership, though, comes a new path, and it’s no secret that the duo was nearly broken up over the winter. Panik was brought up often in trade discussions and the Giants did their due diligence on free-agent second basemen, most notably DJ LeMahieu. 

But here we are, in the month when spring training begins, with everything intact up the middle, and a wide variety of possibilities for how the infield will look at this time a year from now. In Part III of this preview series — here’s Part I, on the catchers, and Part II, on the corner infielders — we take a look at the middle infielders: 

Returning: Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Alen Hanson, Abiatal Avelino

Crawford was a borderline MVP candidate in the first half last season, but his numbers tailed off after the break as he dealt with nagging injuries. Still, it was a seventh consecutive two-WAR season, and there’s no reason to think that streak will end. You can bet he comes into this spring with a little extra motivation, too, after losing his Gold Glove to Nick Ahmed. 

Barring a surprise February trade, Panik will get a shot to reestablish himself. He is coming off the worst season of his career, but he’s still just 28, and still has elite bat-to-ball skills. Perhaps an upgraded analytics department can find a way to build on what Panik does best. If not, he could be headed for a platoon. 

Hanson was a nice story last year and could be a very interesting dude under the Zaidi regime. He had a .781 OPS against right-handers last season with all eight of his homers, and he can play all over the field, including in left, where there’s currently a gaping hole. That’s the type of skill set that could have him in the lineup quite often to take advantage of platoon splits. 

While Hanson succeeded as a left-handed hitter, Avelino has a chance to make a mark given his status as a righty in an infield full of the opposite. He impressed coaches last September with his energy and enthusiasm, and while he didn’t put up big numbers in winter ball, his work in the field is notable.

He played six different positions for Gigantes in the Dominican Republic, including left field and center field. The Giants believe he has a good shot at being a do-everything type

The departed: Kelby Tomlinson, Chase d’Arnaud, Miguel Gomez. 

These three combined for 265 plate appearances but very little production at the plate. Tomlinson is now a D-Back, d’Arnaud is with the Rangers, and it’s unclear where Gomez has landed. Zaidi has focused on upgrading the back end of the roster, and this is one area where the Giants can surely do better. 

Additions

The Giants did not sign anyone in a loaded second base market, but they did trade for Breyvic Valera at the beginning of the new year. The 27-year-old is a .299 hitter in the minors with on-base skills and the ability to play second, short, third, left or center.

He's on the 40-man roster, so he enters the spring with a leg up on some others vying for bench jobs. 

Non-roster invitees: Ryan Howard, Levi Michael, Donovan Solano

Howard, 24, is one of those players you hear about all the time when talking to team executives and scouts. The Giants drafted him twice and he’s had a steady rise, batting .287/.335/.391 in the minors.

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ryan Howard embraces being an underdog]

Howard doesn’t strike out much and the Giants are hopeful his doubles power (32 last season) turns into more as he matures. He could start the year in Triple-A and develop as the No. 2 to Crawford at short, with the ability to move around. 

Michael, 27, had a .858 OPS at two levels for the Mets last season. He has flashed solid on-base skills throughout the minors, which is an emphasis as the Giants rebuild their roster.

Michael has primarily been a second baseman in the minors, but has also played plenty of short, as well as third and all three outfield spots. You might have heard that versatility is another point of emphasis.  

Having taken over 1,000 big league at-bats, Solano is an outlier with this group, but he adds some experience. He spent all of last season in the minors with the Dodgers and can move all over the infield. 

Outlook:

Crawford is as dependable as any Giant, but the rest of this group is unpredictable. If Panik can get back to his old form, the middle of the field should be a strength for the Giants. Long-term, though, they’ll need to start finding some additional depth and developing contributors again.

It’s been a long time since Crawford, Panik and Matt Duffy broke through …