San Francisco Giants: Prospect Ryan Howard preparing for utility role
By Jeff Young
San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has emphasized the importance of positional versatility since joining the organization in November.
As a result, a number San Francisco Giants prospects have been asked to handle multiple positions. That includes infield prospect, Ryan Howard.
Howard—not to be confused with the longtime Philadelphia Phillies slugger or the character from The Office—was a fifth-round selection out of the University of Missouri in 2016. The Giants also picked him in the 31st round in 2015 but failed to sign him.
The 24-year-old has steadily progressed through the minor league ranks since beginning his pro career, demonstrating a knack for hitting along the way.
He was recently promoted to Triple-A Sacramento where he continues to show off the versatility that could eventually be his ticket to a spot on the major league roster.
He has struggled at the plate for much of the season while splitting his time between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .216/.306/.281 in 198 plate appearances.
That could be a result of new swing mechanics in an effort to create more loft in his swing. There has been a pretty sharp decline in his ground ball rate while his fly ball rate has spiked. His stat line could be part of an adjustment period.
The good news is that his peripheral numbers remain solid. He’s currently posting an 11.1 percent walk rate against a 13.6 percent strikeout rate on the year.
Howard also seems to be embracing the new challenge defensively. He has spent the bulk of his professional career at shortstop while getting a few glimpses at both second base and third base. This season has been different.
Shortstop remains his primary position, but he is seeing more time at second and third than he has in previous seasons. He has played 24 games at shortstop, 16 games at third base and seven games at second base in 2019.
The current infield contingent of Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik all hit from the left side of the plate, which means the right-handed hitting Howard could bring a little more balance in a utility role.
The Giants are taking a similar approach with Austin Slater and Abiatal Avelino, preparing them to wear many hats as versatile position players. Unlike Slater and Avelino, Howard is not on the 40-man roster.
Of course, that could change if the front office finds a way to trade any of their incumbent infielders.
Howard will need to start hitting a little more in order to force the San Francisco Giants hand, but they have always liked his bat. With his added defensive versatility, he could at the very least fill a super-utility role in the near future.