PHILADELPHIAEntering his junior season at Southwest Missouri State, Ryan Howard projected as a potential first-round pickone of the top power hitters in the 2001 draft.
He struggled and fell to the fifth round, where the Phillies plucked him. At first, the Phils werent sure what they got in Howard. But now they believe they have a legitimate prospect, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman with 40-homer potential.
Howard, 23, hit .280-19-87 for low Class A Lakewood in his first full minor league season last year. This year, he was off to a fast start for high Class A Clearwater, hitting .311-5-13 with six doubles.
"He has moved into the upper tier of prospects for us," assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. "He has a great work ethic and its showing. Every year, he has shown improvement."
Arbuckle wasnt surprised that the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder got off to such a strong start.
"Every year he has been in good shape," Arbuckle said. "This spring he arrived in exceptional shape. You could just tell he worked hard on his body and his swing and that he was ready to go."
Howard still needs to cut down on his strikeouts. He had 145 last season and 38 in his first 27 games this year.
But theres no doubt the power is there. He showed some of it by homering off Andy Pettitte in a spring training game.
"Thats a great major league pitcher, and for me to hit a home run was a definite highlight," Howard said.
There was a time when power-hitting first basemen in the Phillies system had a clear path to Philadelphia. But the signing of Jim Thome to a six-year deal over the winter blocks the destination for the foreseeable future.
Howard is not discouraged.
"Ill just turn the Thome thing into a positive," he said. "Ive watched Jim Thome play for a long time, and the only thing I can do is learn from him and try to find out what it takes to get where he is."
When Clearwater moves into its new stadium for the start of next season, the team will have a new name. It is dropping the Phillies nickname for something more identifiable with the city of Clearwater. Fans are voting for seven possible new nicknames: Amberjax, Barracudas, Beach Dogs, Kingfish, Sand Sharks, Storm Surge and Wave.
Lefthander Bud Smith, who had shoulder surgery in October, was assigned to Double-A Reading to build innings.
Previous organization report: Elivardo Ramirez
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