Phillies prospect Ryan Howard
The power-hitting first baseman has one big problem regarding his future with the Phillies -- Jim Thome.
Position: 1B Height: 6-4 Weight: 230 Born: 11/19/79 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Ryan Howard was a successful, if erratic, college slugger for Southwest Missouri State University. Drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies in 2001, he hit .272 with six homers in short-season ball in the New York-Penn League, then knocked 19 homers in the Sally League in 2002. He improved in 2003, increasing his batting average and power production, and leading the Florida State League in home runs and batting average, almost winning a Triple Crown. After a slow start in 2004, Howard has been on fire lately, dominating the Eastern League and emerging as one of the top slugging prospects in the game.
Howard physically resembles Fred McGriff, and has similar power potential. He is a big guy, strong and muscular with the bat speed to match. He will destroy most fastballs, and has worked hard to improve his plate discipline, trying to lay off breaking balls outside the zone, waiting for a meaty pitch to drive. Although he's hit for a good batting average the last two years, his high strikeout totals lead many scouts to believe that that won't carry through in the majors. He will take a walk, and despite his high strikeout rate, isn't really a wild outside-the-zone swinger. He had major problems with inside pitches in 2002, but has adjusted his batting stance to compensate and it is no longer a huge weakness for him. Howard is slow and does not run well. His range at first base is limited, but he catches what he gets to, is reliable, has soft hands and is adept at scooping throws out of the dirt.
Howard can be streaky. He got off to a slow start this year, hitting just .236 in April. He began to warm up in May, hitting .277 with eight homers, then exploded in June, hitting .386 with 15 homers and 10 doubles. He's remained hot the first few days in July, going 5-for-14 with three homers this month. Howard's stat line over the last three years shows improving power production, and he's had no problems adjusting to Double-A pitching. The main weakness is the strikeout rate: even this year, he's fanning more than once per game. At age 24, he's not particularly young for a top prospect.
Howard has had no major health concerns.
What to expect
The Phillies have first base covered with Jim Thome, and unfortunately Howard doesn't have the range to play an outfield spot, leaving him without an obvious slot in the Phillies lineup this year or next. Howard has been mentioned in trade rumors and his power would certainly be attractive on the trade market. Unless Thome gets hurt, Howard seems destined to be trade bait. Projecting Howard's performance in The Show depends on how much you want to weight all the strikeouts in your calculation. He certainly has 30+ homer power, but whether he's a .280 hitter or a .240 hitter in a major-league context will determine if he becomes a star or merely a productive, but low-batting-average, slugger. How other teams project his value will determine what kind of return Howard will bring to the Phils on the trade market.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.