On Friday Night in Lakewood, New Jersey, the present met the future. Phillies slugger Ryan Howard was scheduled to play in a game for the Class A Lakewood Blueclaws, a team he played with in 2002 before everyone knew his name. In pure coincidence, Lakewood had planed to retire Howard's No. 29 and because of the timing they were able to have the former NL MVP there for the ceremony.
Howard went 1-for-2 in the game with a double as the Blueclaws fell to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, 4-1. While many people were focused on Howard, one Blueclaws player hopes to follow in his footsteps.
"My eyes will be open watching everything he does."
This was a quote from current Blueclaws first basemen Jonathan Singleton, who ended up in the DH spot because of Howard. If you're a Phillies fan, that is exactly what you want a kid like Singleton to be doing.
Singleton was drafted eighth round of the 2009 draft out of Robert A. Millikan High School in, ironically enough, Lakewood California. He had committed to University of California Davis but chose instead to sign with the Phillies.
His first sighting was during the Pedro Martinez simulated game and that's when message boards started buzzing about this mystery man with "Singleton" on his back. The Phillies finally announced the signing of the first basemen and he jumped right into the Gulf Coast League Phillies finishing the season strong.
In just 100 at bats for the GCL Phillies, Singleton hit .295 with two home runs and 12 RBI. While it wasn't much time, it was just a taste of things to come.
Ryan Howard took a very different path to the majors. Howard failed to get drafted out of high school and chose to go to Southwest Missouri State. The Phillies chose Howard with their fifth round pick in the 2001 draft and he reported to the Phillies short-season club, the Batavia Muckdogs.
Howard climbed the minor leagues and had a breakout year in 2004 when he hit a staggering 46 home runs between AA Reading and AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He has since gone on to win the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, 2006 NL MVP, 2006 Home Run Derby, 2006 Silver Slugger, 2006 Hank Aaron Award, 2006 All-Star, 2009 All-Star, 2009 NLCS MVP, and 2010 All-Star.
He has led the league in home runs two times (2006, 2008) and he has led the league in RBI three times (2006, 2008, 2009). He is also the fastest player in major league history to reach both 100 and 200 career home runs. That's one impressive resume.
So back to Friday, where the veteran meets the future in front of 10,000 people in First Energy Park. If Jonathan Singleton is able to have half the career that Ryan Howard has had so far, he will be considered a success for sure. When you compare the two players' first year in Lakewood, it's quite impressive for the 18-year-old.
Singleton is hitting .293 with 14 HR, 69 RBI, and 19 doubles. He also has added 8 steals although he has been caught 7 times. He has done all of this in 331 at bats.
Howard, way back in 2002, hit .279 for the Blueclaws while hitting 19 HR and 87 RBI in 493 at bats.
When looking at the two first basemen's stats side by side, you would think that Singleton has a shot to actually have a better first year with the Blueclaws then Howard did. It's even more impressive when you factor in the fact that Singleton is only 18, while Howard was 22 years old back in 2002.
I had the fortune of meeting Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr back in December. The first thing I asked him was not regarding Cliff Lee but instead about Singleton. He was a little taken aback since the talk of the town was the swap of one former Cy Young award winner for the other, but he was more then happy to answer my question.
"So Singleton is going to be headed to Williamsport right?"
"Yes, that's the plan...Great hitter."
Plans certainly change when you have a season as great as Singleton. He was able to avoid the demotion to Williamsport when they're season started because he has become a catalyst for a Blueclaws team that is looking for the second consecutive South Atlantic League title. One National League scout said of Singleton:
"He is the best 18-year-old hitter I have seen since Manny Ramirez."
If you're a Phillies fan, that kind of praise has to excite you. On Friday, Singleton wasn't just watching one of the best power hitters in Phillies history, but he was also watching his road block to the majors.
Ryan Howard, and his six year extension, brought many to speculate that Singleton was included in the package for Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt. It reminded me a lot of 2004 when a slugging first basemen named Ryan Howard was blocked by Jim Thome and because of this was mentioned in trade talk that regarded the Phillies.
For now, Singleton is still a Blueclaw, and hopefully one day a Phillie. He may have to change positions to reach Citizens Bank Park if he wishes to one day share the field with the man he did tonight. Singleton is only about an hour and a half drive from Citizens Bank Park, but in baseball he's still a long way away.
In 2002, many Phillies fans had no idea what was coming, but in 2010 we do and his name is Jonathan Singleton.