A Deep Dive on New Cubs Prospect Ed Howard's Exciting Profile | Bleacher Nation

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A Deep Dive on New Cubs Prospect Ed Howard’s Exciting Profile

Chicago Cubs

I’m going to be honest: I had written off the possibility of the Cubs drafting Ed Howard. The local connection seemed too on-the-nose. The plethora of shortstops in the system. Literally zero whispers of a connection between organization and player this spring. The high school risk. It was off my radar.

I was just worried he’d go to the Cardinals or Brewers.

So while I’d done some cursory research on Howard’s game – honestly more last fall as I made plans to see him play this spring – I never took the time to dig in deep during my draft preparations. It’s made the last 12 hours of finding everything I could all-the-more fun. I’m going to walk you through how I checked off all the boxes of the video scouting report

Makeup

The Cubs have made it known in the past how important makeup is in their draft picks, and this season is no exception. Watch this recent ‘On The Soil’ with Ed, and try not to come away super impressed about his demeanor, especially as an 18-year-old:

The most common praise you read about Howard is his work ethic. In his profile at The Athletic, James Fegan dove into Howard’s schedule a few months ago. It began with 4:45 wakeups to make his morning high school conditioning workouts, and ended at 10 p.m after his night-time private trainer workouts.

In the video above, Howard talked about his work this spring during quarantine, building a gym in his basement for Zoom calls with his trainer before heading off to the baseball field.

He’s a grinder.

Physique / Athleticism

All that work in the last 9-10 months since scouts actually saw Howard play in competitive games is translating to a changing physique, as Howard showed on his Instagram yesterday:

This is a decidedly different upper body than you’ll see in the baseball-playing videos below. Scouting reports from then often referenced that he had a projectable upper half, and the good news is that’s already being realized. His growth to a projectable 6-foot-2 frame could even leave questions down the line about outgrowing the position, but his current athletic profile (as well as natural defensive instincts) very much fit at shortstop.

Howard is a quick-twitch athlete with a good first step and natural instincts.

Hit Tool

The Cubs are drafting Howard under no false pretense about the amount of work it will take in helping him realize his ceiling. And the place where this will be most relevant is translating some real positives to on-the-field offensive impact.

Howard’s offensive calling card is his bat speed, which is absolutely plus. His hand path to the ball looks good, his hip explosion is there. The potential for plus bat-to-ball skills is there.

I love the different type of hits he shows in this Prospects Live video:

All that said, I do think the Cubs will look over time to tighten up a few things as Howard is exposed more and more to professional pitching. I believe the Cubs new developmental team of hitting coaches will find ways to make Howard more efficient. (The drive from Howard’s home in Lynwood to Justin Stone’s Elite Baseball facility isn’t far … just sayin’).

Howard’s swing is on the long side, which is OK, though Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs noted that it might translate to trouble with high heat. This did show up in the video. Not an uncommon issue for a developing youngster.

Thus far, however, Howard’s hand-eye coordination is more than enough to overcome any inefficiencies in his swing. He tracks the ball exceptionally, and has a good feel for his barrel. He profiles as someone with a high line drive rate.

By the way, this YouTube video, with video captured in February, is I believe our most recent video evidence of Howard swinging a bat. The load in his swing looks cleaner to me, particularly his right side’s lower body, without sacrificing one ounce of that natural whip:

To put some grades on the hit tool, I would go with:

Current: 40. Future: 55.

Power

Howard has yet to show real in-game power, and it was something teams were suspecting they might find this spring. With the newly enhanced upper body, I think the feeling was he might put a hurting on Chicago Catholic League pitchers this spring. In batting practices last summer, there were hints of developing pull side power. And given the increase in muscle mass, I think this is the part of his game that could have transformed him into a surefire top 10 pick this spring. If there had been a baseball season, that is.

We’re going to have to see the push and pull the Cubs utilize in their swing changes and offensive approach gameplan for Howard’s power versus contact. There’s serious power to unlock (it’s probably the most underrated part of his future projections), but I think most feel he works best right now as a gap-to-gap player. Let the power be the last to come, not unlike the development course charted by similarly-profiled shortstop prospects like Gleyber Torres and Francisco Lindor.

Current: 35. Future: 55.

Speed

As a plus athlete, Howard can definitely move, although time will tell if speed is an element of his game at the professional level. I think you see it most clearly when he charges a baseball. In a 2080 video from PG National, Howard’s run times are quoted as 4.19 seconds from home-to-first and 6.76 seconds in the 60-yard dash. These are somewhere between above-average and plus. I would expect a guy in the 10-20 steal range down the line.

Current: 55/60. Future: 55.

Fielding

This is the exciting part. Howard’s combination of footwork and hands are rare for a teenager, and they combine to leave a lot of confidence that he’ll be able to handle shortstop even with a little more growth. I captured this bit from Baseball America and MLB Pipeline videos which show off some quick, plus hands. Whether it’s effortlessly adjusting to a mediocre feed from the 2B, or nabbing a line drive grounder:

Check out the play, in particular, at the 1:00 mark:

And I loved hearing Harold Reynolds’ superlatives on Howard’s defense in this soundbite (even while knowing Reynolds has superlatives to say about … well, everyone):

Howard’s footwork is also well above-average for his age. There wasn’t one video where it very obviously jumped out, it’s the comfort and the little steps he makes. I see it the best when he’s charging a ball moving forward. He has such an instinctual way to time his footsteps to be in a good position to throw after his transfer. He’s a natural.

Current: 55. Future: 65.

Arm

If scouts have a question, because they simply don’t know the answer, it’s the condition of Howard’s shoulder, and the impact that will have on him moving forward. Howard left summer ball early last year with a reported shoulder injury, and I think a lot of teams were hoping for confirmation of its health this spring. I have no doubt the Cubs brought up those concerns in their Zoom call with Howard, and clearly came away feeling fine about his answer. There will be a physical before signing, too, of course.

In the past, Howard shows all the necessary arm strength for the position, though it remains to be seen if his habit of throwing from different arm angles will result in errors. It’s probably the only element of his defense where I see a coach’s opportunity to fix bad habits.

Current: ?. Future: 50/55.

Overall

There should be no misconceptions that it’s going to be a fast development process with Howard. It’s going to take time, as he has limited experience against top-level talent coming from Illinois. Let’s call it a 2025 ETA, and be pleased with anything earlier.

The simplest path to Howard being a really big leaguer is essentially becoming a +5-10 defender at shortstop and a +5-10 bat, which is a 3-4 WAR player. The steeper path there is clearly on the offensive side, as we’re still just scratching the surface on who Howard is offensively. Will he prove patient at the plate? How many strikeouts can we expect? Has the power arrived yet? The unknown is the nature of this draft, but it leaves a lot of room for excitement.

Howard’s bat could explode and he becomes a star. Even if not, he could become a league-average hitter and be an above-average regular on the strength of the glove. These are exciting outcomes for the 16th pick. Let the development begin.



Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.