Howard Should Assume A Utility Role
Acquired from the Reds in the Tony Womack deal, Kevin Howard has quickly evolved into becoming a utility player. Even after boasting a career .289 batting average in his three minor leagues seasons and torching the Arizona Fall League for a .409 average this past fall, Howard still went unprotected by the Reds on their 40-man roster prior to being traded to the Yankees.
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Drafted out of the University of Miami as a third baseman and part-time shortstop, Kevin Howard earned the reputation as a very good gap hitter and not necessarily for his defensive game. Not the ideal power hitter suited for a corner infield position at the professional level, the Reds decided to move Howard over to second base.
While he has continued to show good wood with the bat, his defensive shortcomings at second base seemingly relegated his projected value to a utility player.
"Defensively at second base," Howard listed as the biggest weakness to his game. "I hadn't played one game at second base until I signed with the Reds. I'm just not comfortable turning the double play. Growing up playing third base and shortstop, your body never turns to your right. Making the play at second base is the main thing I'm trying to work on."
Possessing the ability to play other positions, the fact of the matter is that Howard has played just one game [at third base] in the pros at a position other than second base.
"I've been trying to take a lot of ground balls at second base," Howard told PinstripesPlus.com in a recent interview. "That is an area of my game that needs the most work. I feel very comfortable playing third base and the outfield, even playing shortstop. I know I can do that. I'm working to be a starting second baseman. I'm ready to play anywhere, but I want to be an everyday second baseman."
Part of the reason why Kevin Howard has been able to secure the starting second base position up until the point he was traded to the Yankees has been his potent bat, a plus tool for him at that position. Howard, who hit .413 for the University of Miami in his first season with the Hurricanes, hasn't hit below .285 in any of his three professional seasons.
"Hitting for average, hitting with two strikes, and hitting with runners in scoring position," Howard listed as the biggest strengths to his game.
Bigger than most middle infielders, especially at the second base position, Howard has very few comparisons at the Major League level. In fact, many believe his offensive game resembles that of an outfielder that has spent the majority of his career as a reserve player.
"It is hard to think of a 6'3" second baseman," Howard admitted. "I'm a different kind of player. I'm not a power hitter, but more of a gap hitter. My college coach told me that, offensively, I reminded him of Michael Tucker."
With just Ryan Freel available for them at second base, the Reds didn't feel comfortable enough with Howard's defensive ability to allow him to serve as Freel's backup, prompting a trade for Tony Womack and sending Howard to the Yankees.
"I really won't know how I'll feel about changing teams until I get to Spring Training," Howard said of the trade. "I really liked Cincy. I liked all the players and the coaches. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't incredibly excited about being traded. However, I am very happy about showing a good first impression and showing them [the Yankees] what I can do."
One of Kevin Howard's frustrations is trying to figure out where he stands in his new organization, one he is not very familiar with.
"I don't really know any of the players the Yankees have in the minors," said the 24-year old. "The last [Yankees] team I played against was over two years ago in the Midwest League."
Not knowing which position he'll be playing in 2006 nor which team he'll be playing for next season adds to his frustration.
"Its hard to set goals unless you know who you are competing with," said the left-handed hitter. "I want them [goals] to be high, but I also want them to be realistic. I just want to get my body physically ready for Spring Training."
With Robinson Cano locked in at second base for the foreseeable future for the Yankees, and with the slick-fielding Gabe Lopez and incredible speedy Justin Christian right behind him, the Yankees likely won't keep Howard entrenched as a second baseman.
Unsure of his place in his new organization but more than up for the challenge, Kevin Howard is prepared to do anything asked of him, including assuming more of a utility role with the Yankees.
"I would love to get up to the Yankees as a utility player," an excited Howard admitted. "From the older guys I've talked to, unless you're a huge prospect, that's how you're going to have to break in at the Major League level. It is my job to shine when I get that chance. But I'm excited to be with the Yankees."
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