All the Ryan Howard jokes have been made regarding the San Francisco Giants' new shortstop prospect. So I'll just leave those alone.
Howard, a native of the St. Louis suburb St. Peters, played collegiately for the University of Missouri, and was the highest player picked from the school in 2016 (5th round, 155th overall). Scouts aren't raving about any one particular skill set with Howard, but mention average range and an above average arm from the shortstop position, as well as the potential to develop some power with his 6'2", 180-pound frame.
From what I saw in his pro debut, which included two games playing short and batting in the second spot for the AZL Giants, Howard went 2-for-8 with two walks and zero strikeouts. He had one hard hit ball in game one that didn't result in a hit, as well as one spectacular play at second base which started a Crawford-to-Panik-esque double play. His strong arm was also on display.
Howard was part of a trio of players quickly promoted to Salem-Keizer from the AZL, alongside outfielder Heath Quinn and first baseman Ryan Kirby. But before he left the Arizona heat for the spectacular summers of the Pacific Northwest, Howard kindly sat down with Giant Potential to discuss draft day festivities, playing defense, and teaming up with a former SEC rival.
GP: So you were picked twice by the Giants; once in the 31st round in 2015 and now this year up in the fifth round. Did it make you feel good to know that the organization clearly wanted you?
"No doubt about it. I was really excited to see my name called by the Giants knowing they had picked me the year before, too. Sitting down and getting to know the area scout and learning more about the program, everything I had heard was really good and this is a first-class organization. So I was ecstatic. I wouldn't have wanted to be picked by any other team."
GP: What went into your decision to return to Mizzou for your junior year?
"If I didn't go in the top-three rounds, I wanted to go back to school and play for the USA team in the summer. I wanted to be able to do that. So I went back to school to try to develop myself a little bit more and get into a better position mentally and physically to get ready for professional baseball. So I was really excited when I got another opportunity to sign with the Giants. I jumped at it right away."
GP: What was it like playing for the USA team? That must've been awesome.
"It was an unbelievable experience. Really just playing for what's on the front of the jersey and not what's on the back. I was able to be with a bunch of really great players from across the country, learn things from other coaches, and play other [countries'] teams. I had never played teams that only spoke Spanish so that was kind of a culture shock for me. I think it kind of helped me here, too. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. It was unbelievable."
GP: You made a nice diving play last night that started a pretty double play. That must be something you love about playing shortstop.
"Yeah, it goes back to when I was little and my dad hitting ground balls. I would always tell him to them away from me so I could dive for them. I always like to make those plays, but the thing is you have to make sure you make the routine play and then those other plays will come. It was cool making that play on the first day while getting my feet wet here. Playing these first few games here I'm finding out what pro ball is all about."
GP: Tell me about your draft day experience.
"I learned from previous experience that it was best to get away from it because when you sit around all day you get tense and frustrated seeing your name not get called yet. So the first day I woke up early in the morning because I couldn't sleep. I figured that was the day I was going to get picked. Time was passing so slowly, so I went out fishing with my sister and we caught a couple nice fish. I was hoping that was a sign it was going to be a good day. So I remember walking back into the house, and I think it was about third or fourth round because I heard my dad listening to it. I just went into my room and hung out for a bit but then I got a few texts and heard my dad yell downstairs. So I went down and gave him a hug and that was special for me because he was my coach in high school and he's always been there for me in baseball and everything. It was really special."
GP: So two games in, do you already notice a distinct difference between college ball and pro ball?
"It's the same game, really. There are good players and everyone is here for a reason. The only thing that really stands out to me is the speed of the game. It seems like the runners get down the line faster. So I'm just trying to slow everything down, but I remember having this learning experience in college because that was a huge jump for me. So it's just been making sure I get acclimated to everything and working hard. It's great to have these infield coaches here because I really haven't had instruction like this. So to be able to learn from these guys who have played in the big leagues that I have so much respect for is huge for me. So I'm just trying to take everything slowly and not try to do too much."
GP: So now you're teammates with Mike Bernal, who played at the University of Arkansas. Did you have any run-ins with him while playing in the SEC?
"Yeah there definitely was a rivalry for Missouri and Arkansas. I remember playing them one time and I was on second base and him and their third baseman thought I was picking signs from the catcher. So we got into it a little bit. But we got here and we laughed about it. He's a great guy and it's fun to be around him and have that SEC connection. So we talk to each other about that and those experiences. And playing up the middle with him tonight, that was really cool, too."
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