Name: Josh Howard
DOB: April 6, 1983
Signed as a free agent in 2005, the expectations weren't set high. So, Howard set his own goals, reaching them by getting on base in all 23 of his Arizona Rookie League games and being promoted to Lake Elsinore for their playoff run – and he would begin 2006 in the California League.
Minus a hand injury that claimed a good six weeks early in the season, thanks to a slide that went awry, Howard continued to surprise.
Blessed with a good eye, the ability to make contact and above average speed, Howard combined all his skills to have a solid season.
Howard batted .294 over 66 games for the Storm with a .412 on base percentage. A left-handed hitter, Howard uses all parts of the field and will work the count, fouling off pitches until he sees one he likes. He doesn't have much power but when the ball hits the gaps he is aggressive enough to take an extra base.
Throwback would be a more accurate depiction of his game. He is an overachiever who gives his all every play. If his uniform isn't dirty, he isn't trying hard enough.
The 180-pound outfielder swiped 22 bases in 31 attempts, getting good reads of the pitchers and is a tick above average in the speed department. He has worked hard on his bunting skills, but Howard is more adept swinging the stick to where the infield isn't. His game is built on putting the ball sharply into the ground rather than stroking line drives and his quick wrists allow him to punch the ball between fielders.
"Howard has good speed," 2006 Lake Elsinore coach Rick Renteria said. "He takes advantage of mistakes and runs the bases aggressively."
There were two areas where he struggled: against left-handed pitching and with runners in scoring position. He hit .121 against southpaws, while hitting .323 off right-handed pitching, and hit .161 with runners in scoring position, as opposed to his .324 mark with the bases empty. Because of his batting style, he isn't able to take advantage of the positioning of the fielders with men on base. He is, however, an ideal candidate to execute a hit-and-run.
When things aren't going well, Howard gets under the ball and hits lazy fly balls into the outfield. He does tend to pull the ball a little too often instead of shooting it the other way on a pitchers' pitch, offering up an easy play for the second baseman.
He can play all the outfield positions but is better suited for centerfield. He makes good breaks on the balls and doesn't take many unnecessary steps. He plays the positions smartly, cutting off balls in the gap and taking good routes to the ball.
"He is a guy that I am cautiously optimistic about," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "He can run. He is an on base guy. Mal Fichman strikes again."
ETA: Howard, 23, brings energy to each team he has played for but will also have to prove his hitting will work in Double-A, a spot he should reach in 2007. He may not have the ceiling of another player but his strong defensive play and ability to create some havoc on the basepaths make him an option as a fifth outfielder at the big league level. He can make his own path by continuing to reach base and being aggressive when he does.