Prior to his senior year at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Florida, Brandon Howlett was considered to be an early-round pick in the 2018 Draft. That was before the right-handed hitter struggled with his consistency at the plate, including at the high-profile National High School Invitational, where scouts questioned his ability to recognize pitches.
As a result, Howlett fell to the 21st round, where the Red Sox selected him with the 640th overall pick. Determined to begin his pro career, Howlett signed and began crushing the ball upon reporting to the Gulf Coast League. The reason? Howlett could see pitches after Boston fitted him with the proper contact lenses.
"It's not that I couldn't see," said the 19-year-old Howlett. "Obviously I can't see 20/20 without contacts or glasses. In high school I started using glasses during games and they would fog up, so I'd take them off and throw them in the dugout. As far as contacts are concerned, I have allergies, so certain contacts irritated my eyes and all I'd do is rub them throughout the game. I was back and forth on those, and then everyone started saying I couldn't see or I can't see at night. I can see perfectly fine."
The Red Sox had plans to shift Howlett from third base to left field in the GCL but decided to keep him at the hot corner when first-round pick Triston Casas was lost for the season due to injury. Howlett responded by putting together a better pro debut than anyone else in Boston's 2018 Draft class. He showed solid footwork and a strong arm at third and ranked second in the GCL with 15 doubles, third with a .526 slugging percentage and tied for fourth with 20 extra-base hits. He received a late-season promotion to Lowell in the New York-Penn League and finished his first campaign hitting .289/.402/.513 with six homers and 27 RBIs.
Video: Greenville's Howlett goes deep
"It's a grind being down in Fort Myers, where it's 100 degrees every day and you're up at seven o'clock in the morning and you don't get home until 5 or 6," Howlett said. "I was fortunate enough to be put into the position I was with Casas getting hurt. I took advantage of the opportunity."
Promoted to Greenville to open the 2019 campaign, Howlett got off to a slow start, hitting .203/.263/.304 during the season's first month. He started to find his rhythm in June, posting a .333 batting average and driving in 14 runs after recording 11 RBIs in April and May combined. Through games of July 17, he was hitting .255/.358/.372 with 17 doubles, five home runs and 25 RBIs.
"Sometimes I try to do too much at the plate, and that's why I was struggling the first 35 or 40 games this season," Howlett said. "I was trying to hit the ball 500 feet. But I've come to realize it's the times when you don't try to hit the ball so hard is when things start clicking and you get hold of one."
Howlett has tried to maintain a similar approach in the field. He committed 17 errors in his first 73 games at third base and has spent most afternoons at Fluor Field working on becoming as consistent as possible on every ball hit in his direction.
"This year I wanted my defense to be as good as my offense," Howlett said. "I've worked hard on reading hops, because as you move up, people hit the ball harder. You have to make adjustments and make quick decisions on the field. I think that was the biggest thing I had to adjust to at the start of the year, adapting to the speed of the game."
2019 MiLB include
A little over a year ago Howlett could have become frustrated or turned his attention to college baseball by attending Florida State. Instead, he has a firm understanding that playing in the Minor Leagues involves developing all aspects of his game. With the raw power to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter who makes consistent contact, Howlett is trusting the process while honing his skills on a daily basis in the South Atlantic League.
"The moment I picked up a baseball, this has been 100 percent what I wanted to do," Howlett said. "That's part of the reason I signed as a late-rounder. I could have gone to college for three or four years, but all I wanted to do was play baseball. The door was open, and you never know if you'll get another opportunity. This is what I know, and I want to make the most of every chance I get to play this game."
Schmidt happens: Asheville's Colten Schmidt lowered his SAL-leading ERA to 1.95 by tossing a two-hit shutout over Greenville on July 17. In the 4-0 victory, the left-hander from the University of Louisiana Lafayette won his third consecutive start and became the first Tourists starting pitcher to go more than seven innings this season.
Next man up: Greensboro lost a big part of its offense when Mason Martin, the producer of 23 home runs and 83 RBIs in 82 games, was promoted to Class A Advanced Bradenton on July 9. Luke Mangieri, who was called up from West Virginia in the New York-Penn League to replace Martin, has filled the void admirably with four two-hit games and nine RBIs in his first seven outings with the Grasshoppers. Mangieri had two two-run homers versus Hagerstown on July 16.
Newton en fuego: Fireflies shortstop Shervyen Newton has been hotter than the weather in Columbia since July 5. Over his last 11 games (through July 17), the infielder from the Netherlands is 19-for-44 (.432) with four of his six home runs and 11 of his 22 RBIs on the season.
Honeyman streaking again: West Virginia's Bobby Honeyman extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a single in four at-bats on July 17. During the stretch he is 19-for-54 (.352) with a homer, six RBIs and nine runs scored. This stretch marks Honeyman's third hitting streak of at least eight games this season (May 13-20, May 24-June 2).