Justin Howard: Back and Better Than Ever

Hi…My Name Is…
1B/OF Justin Howard
6-0 | 205
 Dallas, Texas
Ennis, Texas
Twitter: @JHowey_11
Stats: http://atmilb.com/1pdQJn1

By Jim Lane

Justin Howard will see some time in the outfield in 2014 (Photo: Kevin Pataky)
Justin Howard will see some time in the outfield in 2014 (Photo: Kevin Pataky)

Justin Howard had an outstanding 2013 season with the Altoona Curve.

He finished with a .314 average in 98 games, collected 89 hits in 283 at-bats, hit eight home runs and drove in 38 runs.

Those numbers put him among the Eastern League leaders. He batted .333 (80-for-240) after June 1, which ranked third in all of Double-A, and the best of any player with at least 70 games played.

Sounds good enough for a promotion to Triple-A, but Howard is back in Altoona for the start of the 2014 season.

“At the beginning of last year, my role was to come off the bench,” Howard said. “I was kind of a secondary guy.

“Then, as guys moved up or got injured, my role changed,” he said. “I was pushed into the starting lineup every day and it was great to come through and have a good season. It was especially good because the Altoona fans always stay behind you.

“It was a lot of fun, a great experience.”

Howard grew up in the football-crazy state of Texas, but decided baseball was his sport at an early age.

“Football is king in Texas,” he said. “The stadiums are great and the crowds are great. I played football in junior high, but gave it up after my freshman year. It’s worked out for me, I think.”

A left-handed hitter and thrower, Howard plays first base and the outfield.

“I actually was known as a pitcher in high school,” he said. “I threw a lot of strikes, but my ball didn’t have much movement.”

So he went to college on his offensive skills. After two years at Navarro Junior College, Howard transferred to the University of New Mexico and he really began to blossom as a hitter.

As a senior at New Mexico, Howard batted .456 with 32 doubles, 10 homers and 72 RBIs in 59 games, leading the nation in hits and batting average most of the season.

He helped lead the Lobos to their first NCAA appearance in 48 years, was named to the Louisville Slugger All-America Team and was selected by the Pirates in the 24th round of the 2010 draft.

He batted .341 in 15 games for the GCL Pirates (Rookie League) and was promoted to West Virginia (low A) in 2011 where he batted .262 in 126 games. He tied for second in the South Atlantic League in doubles and tied for second in walks.

Howard spent 2012 in Bradenton (high A) and batted .283 in 83 games, earning a promotion  to Altoona last season.

He doesn’t mind that he’s beginning the season in Altoona again.

“It’s a trickle-down thing,” Howard said. “It depends on who makes the big-league club and where the need is. I’ll go wherever they want me to go.

“The (Altoona) fans are great. The boosters are great. The front office, from the GM (Rob Egan) down, they’re all are great. It’s awesome. I love Altoona.”

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