It sounds as if Ryan Howard might soon take his first significant step toward making it back to the big leagues.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien, Howard could be assigned to the Braves’ triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett County “by this weekend.”
Since signing a minor-league deal with the Braves earlier this month, the former Phillies slugger has been working out at Atlanta’s spring training facility at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. According to O’Brien, the 37-year-old Howard “has shown enough in extended spring training that he could be at triple-A Gwinnett by this weekend.”
While the Braves have not set a timetable for Howard’s promotion to the big leagues, any decision to dispatch him to Gwinnett is a big step. Right now, neither side has much invested in his attempt to make it back to the majors with the Braves. He isn’t taking up a roster spot, or earning serious money, and he’s taking his swings within an hour-and-a-half drive of his Tampa Bay-area home.
Assuming he gets to Gwinnett, there he'll be a legit minor-leaguer riding the bus with the rest of the odd assortment of prospects and journeymen who typify your typical triple-A roster. In other words, we’ll know that both sides are serious about this thing (and there will be an official statistical record of his progress that we can monitor from afar).
If and when Howard makes it to Gwinnett, he’ll have at least one former teammate in the clubhouse. David Hernandez, who spent 2016 pitching out of the back end of the Phillies bullpen, is on Gwinnett’s roster. Howard also will be teammates with three pitchers he’s faced: former Cardinals closer Jason Motte, against whom he is 1 for 6 with a double and three strikeouts lifetime, former Rockies set-up man Rex Brothers (2 for 7, HR, 2 Ks), and former Brave Matt Wisler (3 for 10, 2B, 2 Ks).