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Arizona Fall League Notebook
By Jack Magruder
PHOENIX -- It is 9:12 a.m. on Oct. 6. Do you know where your top power hitting prospect is?
Phillies prospect Ryan Howard could have been excused for dozing a few extra minutes before his Arizona Fall League game that afternoon, inasmuch as he joined the Phoenix Desert Dogs only two days earlier following a September callup to the parent club after his 46-home run performance at two levels.
But there was Howard in the outdoor batting cage at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, who, along with teammates was redirecting pitches from Desert Dogs hitting coach Eric Richardson before boarding the team bus for a 20-minute ride to Mesa.
It has been a common sight this season.
Howard is in the cage.
Then he is out of the yard.
Four hours after his early work Oct. 6, Howard hit a two-run homer in the first inning of the Desert Dogs' game against Mesa, which suspended after 11 innings tied at three to protect the young arms on each staff.
"He's just an extremely hard worker," said Richardson, who coached the Phillies' entry at Class A Lakewood this season after spending time with Howard in spring training.
"He is his biggest critic. He wants to be perfect every time and he works to get there. Sometimes you might see him put a really good swing on the ball and hit it well, and he is 'Well, I can hit one better than that.' That's the kind of attitude he has. That's the approach he takes."
The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder hit a lot of balls well in 2004, his fourth season in the Phillies' organization after being a fifth-round draft choice out of Southwest Missouri State in 2001. He was .297-37-102 in 102 games at Double-A Reading, being named the best power prospect in the league in a poll of league managers.
Howard continued his surge after a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going .270-9-29 in games for a combined .291-46-131 with a .637 slugging percentage. His only drawback was his 166 strikeouts.
Scouts are impressed by Howard's ability to take the ball--and take it deep--where it is pitched.
"He hits the ball all over the field, and for a big man you don't normally see that," Richardson said. "They are either dead pull or one way, but Howard has good power up the middle and the other way He doesn't try to pull that outside pitch. He'll hit lit over the center field wall. That's something you can't treach. You want a guy to through the ball. For him to have power all over the field, that's amazing."
Howard, 24, has built his power numbers in every minor league season. He was .272-6-35 at short-season Batavia in 2001, .280-19-87 at Lakewood in 2002 and .304-23-82 at Class A Clearwater in 2003, leading the league in batting average and home runs.
While the 2004 season was his best, he is still learning, still making adjustments.
"The (higher level) pitchers were more around the plate. They threw a lot more off speed in fastball counts, throwing backwards and things like that. They knew where they wanted to put it and when they wanted to put it there," Howard said.
"It was constantly a game of adjustments on both sides. Luckily, I was able to make the adjustments to where I could figure some things out. I just tried to stay within myself, and there are always things to work on. So I'll be doing the same thing (in the Fall League), trying to get back after it."
With Jim Thome signed through 2008 with a club option for 2009, the Phillies appear set at first base. There was some speculation that Howard might take some work in the outfield in the Fall League, but neither Howard nor Richardson said they have been told to do that.
"I know there was talk, but we'll just have to wait and see. You take the situation and try to take a positive out of it. It can't hurt, you know. Just see what happens with it," said Howard, who added that his last played outfield in high school.
"That's stuff you can't control. The only thing you can control is how you go out and play every day. Go out, do what you are supposed to do, and things will work themselves out. You can't really worry about it. You want to stay focused on your game on the field and not on the stuff off the field that you can't control."
On the field, Howard controls a lot.
"Having a year like 'Ryno' had this year, you don't have to be a genius to say he has a big future ahead of him," Richardson said. "I think he's going to keep going and not look back. He does a great job of making adjustments, and that's what it's all about.
"If you can make the adjustments and overcome, you are going to put up the numbers he is going to put up."
• Mesa first baseman Brian Dopriak, (Cubs) who was named the Midwest League's MVP and top prospect after going .307-39-120 at Lansing, homered in the second game of the season, a 3-3 tie against Phoenix that was suspended after 11 innings. Dopriak, a second round pick in 2002, led the Midwest League in homers and was second in RBIs.
• Grand Canyon righthander Jesse Crain and outfielder Jason Kubel were late arrivals after making the Minnesota Twins' postseason roster. Crain was named the best reliever in the International League while at Rochester, going 3-2, 2.49 with 19 saves and 64 strikeouts in 50 2-3 innings. Kubel was .352-22-100 at Double-A New Britain and Rochester. He was named the International League Rookie of the Year, playing 90 games there.
• Mesa outfielder Delmon Young, (Devil Rays) the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft who made his pro debut in the Fall League last season, is one of seven former first picks to play here. Phil Nevin, Darin Erstad, Matt Anderson, Pat Burrell, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Gonzalez are the others.