Top Prospect #7: 1B Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard finds himself in an unusual situation. He's one of the best prospects in the Phillies system and one of the best position prospects in all of baseball. Still, few believe that Howard will ever actually play in Philadelphia. It's not that the Phillies don't realize or respect his talent, it's simply that the Phillies don't have a need for a left-handed, power-hitting first baseman. Plus, Howard isn't likely to be able to adjust to another position, leaving him in an awkward situation.

Watching Ryan Howard do anything is like watching pure power. He's a muscular guy with plenty of power and shows it off well. While Howard was always a prospect, 2003 saw him take a giant leap forward and also saw him win the Florida State League MVP Award.

Howard, who played his college ball at Southwest Missouri State, came to the Phillies with their fifth round pick in the 2001 Draft. While he was an impressive hitter, the Phillies always thought that there was something just not quite right about how Howard looked at the plate, but they couldn't put their finger on it. Last spring, it was Howard himself, who found a key to his potential. Howard just decided to open his stance a little at the plate and found that it made all the difference in the world. The new stance helped to correct a flaw in Howard's game that was a definite hole. Admittedly, Howard had problems picking up pitches and distinguishing between pitches, which slowed his swing. The new stance didn't completely fix the problem, but it is much better.

At Clearwater in 2003, Howard hit a career high .304 to lead the league. He also led the league in slugging percentage (.514) and homeruns (23), helping him to the MVP honors. He still struggles with some pitches and looks especially weak on high pitches, which led him to strikeout 151 times. His lack of discipline at the plate led him to swing at a lot of bad pitches and strikeout three times more than he walks.

While hitting homeruns comes naturally for Howard, defense is not something that is natural for him. Howard has worked very hard to improve his defense and has become at least an average first baseman defensively. His main problem is his range, which is a result of his depressingly slow speed. It would be interesting to see Greg Luzinski in his prime race Ryan Howard. Smart money might be on Luzinski.

Howard's power combined with average defense and well below average agility make him a candidate to be a designated hitter. Moving to a position other than first base is almost impossible, so Howard is somewhat limited by those factors. The Phillies would certainly overlook the agility factor in Howard if they didn't already have Jim Thome signed to play first base. Since neither Thome or Howard are flexible when it comes to position, somebody has to go and it's not going to be Thome.

In a perfect world, Howard will have a huge season at AA Reading and increase his value even more. Some scouts think Howard may struggle as he gets closer to the majors and sees better pitchers, so they have been a little leary of advising their GMs to go after Howard all out in a trade. That would all change with a big season at Reading and the Phillies could likely get a lot of quality in exchange for Ryan Howard, especially if they find the right trading partner.

Ryan Howard's Career Stats

 

Year/Team

HR

RBI

AVG

SB

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

BB

KO

2001 Batavia (Rookie)

6

35

.272

0

48

169

26

46

7

3

30

55

2002 Lakewood (Low A)

19

87

.280

5

135

493

56

138

20

6

66

145

2003 Clearwater (High A)

23

82

.304

0

130

490

67

149

32

1

50

151

Career Minor Legue Totals

48

204

.289

5

313

1152

149

333

59

10

146

351


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