Howard, DeBruin, Justus all finish strong as minor league seasons wrap up

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The last day of the minor league baseball regular season was Monday for most teams, and with parks across the country going dark for another long winter, we’re checking in with Bartow County’s minor leaguers for what may be the last time in 2016.

All three active Bartow County minor league players made statements as their seasons wrap up, with Sam Howard making two great starts, Grant DeBruin working on a nine-game hitting streak and Connor Justus recording a hit in every game but one last week.

Howard made two starts last week for the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats in the Colorado Rockies organization, and pitched seven innings in each.

First, he dominated the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Aug. 31, giving up no runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out five, but taking a no-decision as Hartford won in 11 innings.

He was almost as good against the Harrisburg Senators on Monday in the Yard Goats’ last game of the season, as he gave up eight hits and two runs to the Senators but struck out six and walked none.

The former Cartersville pitcher was in line for the win in that one, too, but his bullpen coughed up a lead in the bottom of the ninth, as Harrisburg won 5-4.

After a rough adjustment period over his first two months in Double-A, Howard flipped a switch and closed out the season by going 5-1 with a 2.72 ERA over his last 10 outings.

His good performance against Harrisburg allowed him to sneak his overall Double-A ERA under four, as he finishes the season with a 3.99 mark in 16 starts with Hartford. He went 5-6 with 113 hits allowed and 67 strikeouts in 90.1 innings with the Yard Goats.

Over two stops in the minors—he started the season with the Class-A Advanced Modesto Nuts—he went a combined 9-9 with a 3.35 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 156 innings.

Grant DeBruin has also played at two stops in the minors this year, although his travels came in the Washington Nationals organization. After being demoted from the Class-A Advanced Potomac Nationals in June, the former Adairsville Tiger has been a steady presence for the Class-A Hagerstown Suns.

He’s been even more than that over the last weeks of the season, saving his best performances for the playoff chase.

A 2-for-5 performance against the Asheville Tourists on Monday saw him extend his hitting streak to nine games. He’s hitting .421 over that stretch, with four runs scored and three RBIs.

Hagerstown made it to the playoffs by virtue of their first-half championship in the Sally League’s North Division, and will take on the Lakewood Blue Claws in a three-game series to potentially advance to the championship series.

If the Suns make it that far, DeBruin could potentially make a north Georgia homecoming, as the Rome Braves are battling the Charleston RiverDogs for the Southern Division championship. Any potential championship series between the Suns and the Braves would see at least one game being played in Rome, just up the road from where DeBruin starred with Adairsville.

DeBruin’s late-season hot streak—he’s hitting .310 since the all-star break—saw him raise his season average with the Suns up to .290. Over his two stops, DeBruin hit .284 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .396 slugging percentage.

Lastly, former Cartersville shortstop Connor Justus has also closed his season with a bang, hitting .355 over his last 10 games with the Class-A Burlington Bees in the Los Angeles Angels organization.

He recorded two RBIs and two runs scored in that stretch, and raised his batting average with the Bees from .191 to .230.

He’ll finish the season with a .344 on-base percentage to go along with that .230 batting average in 42 games with the Bees.

Fold in his stats from 26 games with the Rookie-league Orem Owlz, where Justus started his career, and the former Cane hit .274 with a stellar .394 OBP in his first professional season.