116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nothing like ambushing.
That’s the way it has worked so far this High-A Central League season. Howell hits a home run, does something good, Rima gets a text.
So does Ron Benich, Kirkwood’s hitting coach when Howell played there.
“Everything I do, I send it to them,” said Howell, whose team swept the Cedar Rapids Kernels in a doubleheader Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium, 8-1 and 6-1. “I’m grateful to those two guys. I try to go back there when I can. I watch the games, I’m in Coach Rima’s office talking to him. I’m watching practices, I’m hitting with the team every now and then. Still being around, but not too much.”
The Milwaukee Brewers drafted Howell out of Kirkwood in 2018, in the 12th round, and he has slowly worked his way up through their farm system. Slow is not a word you’d use to describe the start he has gotten off to in 2021.
The 22-year-old outfielder-infielder originally from Chicago went into Saturday with a .303 batting average in 20 games. His six home runs were second in the league, his slugging percentage of .605 fourth and his OPS (on base plus slugging) of 1.005 third.
His homer number has already tripled his previous career total of two. Just to show you he hasn’t lost the speed that helped get him drafted, Howell also has nine stolen bases a month in.
“Basically this offseason I revamped my whole game,” Howell said. “Not necessarily revamped, but just tried to add new things to the way I play. Whether that’s just getting stronger, being in the gym a lot. I got with (Benich), he was available this whole offseason. So I would meet with him, we got into the gym and got to work. At that point, things just kind of took off. Really from about October, I started feeling really good. Then it’s just trying to keep the wave going into the season.”
That wave is really high at the moment. Howell, who lives in North Liberty and has been commuting to the stadium for this six-game series, got engaged this past offseason to a woman he met at Kirkwood.
He said that has given him a new perspective on his career, given him more of a sense of urgency.
“I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m fighting for my future family,” he said. “Having that fire in the back of my mind at all times keyed into having a good start to the season.”
Howell played independent baseball a bit last summer for Joliet to keep sharp since the minor league season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said once he got to spring training in April, he could tell the guys who were able to get in some games somewhere as they appeared to be sharper.
He has played shortstop and other infield positions as a pro but has been Wisconsin’s center fielder, showing off good range and a strong arm against the Kernels. Versatility is a good thing to have in your pocket.
He said having a better approach at the plate also has been important in his first-month offensive splurge. He is having better at-bats, trying to relax and not do too much.
Stuff like that comes with experience.
“Don’t be this overzealous player, which I’m not. Whatever capabilities I have, just try to bring those out as much as possible,” he said. “I just want to keep it going. I want to be consistent. One thing I’m focusing on this season is I know there are going to be highs and lows. That’s baseball. But trying not to have my lows as low as they were, as consistent as they were. I’ve got to try and capitalize on the highs and minimize the lows.”
The Kernels (9-14) did not have a hit in the seven-inning first game, though scratched across a run. They didn’t have a hit in Game 2 until Seth Gray’s single in the sixth inning.
Cedar Rapids has recorded just eight hits in its last four games.
Howell went 1-for-3 with a run scored, RBI and walk in the nightcap. He went 2-for-3 with a run scored and three RBIs in the first game.
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