Next time you see Sahadev Sharma, be sure to thank him for me. Because earlier today at The Athletic, he was able to share some pretty detailed updates on many of the team’s top prospects via Cubs Director of Player Development Matt Dorey. And seeing as how our experience with Cubs prospects this season has been largely limited to (1) getting excited about drafting local shortstop Ed Howard and then (2) watching Brailyn Marquez throw one inning in the last game of the season, I’d say this is something we all desperately needed.
In fact, this is your must-read of the day. Seriously, go check it out.
The lack of a MiLB season didn't stop the Cubs from making sure their top prospects took real strides this summer. A look at the progress of Brennen Davis, Miguel Amaya, Burl Carraway & others. (bonus peek at what Ed Howard is working on at instructs) https://t.co/gqp1oULXvY
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) October 16, 2020
In this article, Sharma discusses the Cubs top positional prospect, outfielder Brennen Davis, one of the Cubs most important prospects, catcher Miguel Amaya, one of the Cubs most recent prospects, reliever Burl Carraway, plus 2020 first rounder Ed Howard, infielder Chris Morel, and 2017 second-round righty Cory Abbott. Not all of these guys were at South Bend this year, but each of them got some significant work in. And without the benefit of Minor League stat lines to scout, this is basically our first real insight on any of them this year.
I’m not going to spoil too much from Sharma’s post, but I will share bits from two player sections. First, Burl Carraway.
In case you forgot, Carraway was the second round lefty the Cubs selected *as a reliever* in the 2020 MLB Draft – a somewhat out-of-character selection for Chicago (though that makes sense with new draft guru Dan Kantrovitz running the show). Dorey had a lot to say about Carraway, but among the points that stood out was his insistence that although the Cubs actually did have a lot they wanted to work on with him this year, “his stuff [had] the opportunity to play” in the big leagues as soon as this season, as we all suspected. However, the Cubs didn’t want to force him into the majors without providing him the services and and benefits any other drafted player might receive as a new professional: “That’s getting them acclimated to a professional environment, getting them comfortable with the coaches, R&D staff and strength and conditioning high-performance staff.”
“The fastball has elite carry traits and premium, high-end velocity,” Dorey said. “The curveball is power swing-and-miss, a 12-to-6 hammer. The slider is a nice complement off of that. He worked on that a lot in South Bend and again in instructionals.”
Moving on, Sharma reminds us that just because Ed Howard didn’t actually make his way to South Bend this season, doesn’t mean he was idle. The Cubs had him work out with Cubs director of hitting Justin Stone at his “Elite Baseball Training” facility just west of Wrigley Field this summer.
From the sound of it, Dorey has absolutely no concerns about Howard’s defense and long-term ability to stick at shortstop, which is great news. The focus, then seems to be on his offensive game. And from that perspective, there is both good news and some areas with which we can start monitoring.
The good news: First of all, Howard has apparently put on size and strength. And I’m not going to say I was worried about that, because most of the videos we saw were from his junior year in high school, but I won’t tell you it hadn’t crossed my mind. He was young and he is a shortstop, but boy … he looked wirey. The more size and good weight right now, the better. Even more exciting, this: “Ultimately, on the offensive side, he has pretty elite bat speed and exit velocities.”
If Howard is not going to be a power hitter, which is possible, you want him to have that elite bat speed to match the ever-increasing velocities in the majors. The Cubs need contact hitters and the early returns seem to suggest Howard could do that.
But that’s not to say they’re abandoning the power game. in fact, that’s our …
Something to monitor: Dorey identifies a compact and “flat swing” from Howard which can be a strength, but it sounds like they’re working on elevating a bit more to induce some natural power: “…he has the ability to do some damage by getting the ball in the air, without changing his approach. Because he has a really advanced approach and uses the middle and off-side of the field. But he just needs to know he can take more chances in those advantage hitting counts and do more damage.”
There are a TON more interesting tid bits like that on Carraway, Howard, and the other Cubs prospects listed above, so be sure to check out Sharma’s post at The Athletic. It is required reading.