Ryan Howard is “very optimistic” he’ll begin rehab assignment in the next week

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Chase Utley may soon have some familiar company in the minors.

According to Jake Kaplan of MLB.com, Ryan Howard said in a podcast on his website that he is “very optimistic” he’ll begin a minor league rehab assignment “in the next week or so.” I may have buried the lede here, as the bigger news might be that Ryan Howard has a podcast.

Anyway, Howard has been rehabbing his surgically-repaired left Achilles tendon in simulated games in Clearwater. He recently began running the bases and playing the field. He’ll need to feel comfortable with both before being cleared for competitive game situations.

Position players are given a 20-day rehab window in the minors and Howard figures to need most or all of it. Assuming he can get into a game by next weekend, that would put him on track to rejoin the Phillies shortly after the All-Star break.

Howard, who is in the first year of a five-year, $125 million contract extension, batted .253/.346/.488 with 33 home runs, 116 RBI and an .835 OPS last season. The Phillies have combined to bat .265/.325/.425 with 10 homers and a .751 OPS from the first base position this year.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.