Justin Erick Howard
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 0", Weight 205 lb.
- School Navarro College, University of New Mexico
- High School Ennis (TX) High School
First baseman Justin Howard played in the Pittsburgh Pirates system from 2010 to 2014.
Howard was All-State as a high school senior. He hit .395 with 53 RBI and 21 steals in 53 games in junior college in 2008. Transferring to UNM, he hit .309/.376/.546 as a junior. He was superb as a senior (.456/.510/.709, 32 2B, 77 R, 72 RBI in 59 G), one of the top producers in NCAA Division I. He led the Mountain West Conference in average and OBP, was second to C.J. Cron in slugging, led in runs, led in hits (119, 20 ahead of anyone else), led in total bases, led in doubles (6 ahead of another future Pirate minor leaguer, Matt Curry), was second in RBI (9 behind Cron) and tied for 6th in walks (31) while only striking out 18 times. His school made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 48 years. In NCAA Division I, he had the highest average (less than one hit ahead of Jace Brinkerhoff), tied Wes Cunningham for 11th in runs, was second in doubles (one behind Joel Blake), tied for 43rd in RBI, led in hits (one ahead of Brinkerhoff), tied Jeremy Baltz for 9th in total bases, was 27th in OBP (between Nick Martini and Kevin Quaranto) and 48th in slugging (between Adam Eaton and Ryan Durrence). Despite being the national leader in average, he didn't even make All-Conference, as Curry was picked at 1B and Cron at DH.
He had a knee injury shortly before the draft; combined with his age and the high-offense environment UNM played in, he fell to the middle of the draft.
He was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 24th round of the 2010 amateur draft. The scout was Larry Broadway. In his rookie professional season, Howard hit .341/.420/.477 in 44 at-bats for the GCL Pirates.
In 2011, he hit .262/.369/.393 with 37 doubles and 78 walks in 126 games for the West Virginia Power. He tied Jurickson Profar for second in the South Atlantic League in doubles (4 back of Dan Black) and was second in walks (4 behind David Freitas). Among Pirates farmhands, he tied Matt Hague for second in two-baggers, one shy of Starling Marte, and was second in walks (a distant 26 behind Robbie Grossman). In 2012, he batted .283/.382/.379 with 77 hits in 83 games for the Bradenton Marauders. He mostly played DH, with Alex Dickerson ensconced at first base.
He hit .314/.405/.459 with 89 hits in 98 games for the Altoona Curve in 2013, fielding .995 at 1B. He took over 1B when Curry was hurt and Andrew Lambo was promoted to AAA. He had the best OBP of any Pirates farmhand with 300+ plate appearances, 8 points ahead of Charlie Cutler. Had he qualified, his average would have been second to Cesar Puello in the Eastern League and his OBP would have been 4th (between Josmil Pinto and Mark Minicozzi). Despite his good 2013, he began 2014 back in Altoona, as Lambo and Matt Hague were at 1B for AAA Indianapolis. After hitting .248/.327/.393 in 95 games between Altoona and Bradenton and being injured, he was released.
He slashed .278/.373/.407 with 21 home runs and 159 RBI in 417 games.