Cubs Prospect Notes: Howard, Piñango, Rodriguez, Leeper, Martin, Draft, More

It’s so nice to have minor league stuff to peruse on the daily right now. I know we had it back last year, too, but losing that whole 2020 season has still kinda stuck with me. It reeeeally sucked not to have it.

Anyway, some Cubs prospect notes …

⇒ The Athletic duo of Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney dig into a number of Cubs prospects in their latest, and I found the section on shortstop prospect Ed Howard perhaps the most interesting. Here’s a portion of it:

There are differing opinions within the organization about Howard’s ceiling, but he will have a path toward the majors as a potential Gold Glove shortstop with presence and athleticism. Those who still believe in the bat see all the tools needed to succeed at the highest level, but plenty to iron out in order to avoid sputtering in the minors. The biggest question at the moment is Howard’s pitch recognition, which had scouts really questioning his offensive upside last summer.

Howard worked at this aspect of the game during the offseason. While it may be a slower process compared to other naturally gifted offensive talents in the Cubs system, there are plenty of reasons to be patient with Howard. The Cubs believe in his makeup, first and foremost, and trust that despite his struggles last season, he won’t be deterred in finding out what works best for him and his swing as he learns how to time up pitchers at the professional level.

⇒ The makeup DOES matter in terms of maxing out development potential, but if the pitch-recognition doesn’t arrive, then the ceiling is probably something like a plus-defensive infield bench option. That there are differing opinions within the organization on that possibility is interesting, as is the decision to promote him to South Bend to open the season. It’s another really tough assignment.

⇒ I’m reluctant to even share tiny-sample minor league stats, because they can change so dramatically with a single game. But since I know you’ll wonder how Howard is doing so far (just 17 plate appearances): .250/.412/.250 (114 wRC+). And yes, that’s a funky line, the product of a 17.6% BB rate and a 5.9% K rate.

⇒ Speaking of Howard, I enjoyed this read from Gordon Wittenmyer on the Chicago shortstop connection with Tim Anderson. Not only does the White Sox shortstop have high praise for Howard, he’s also been working with him:

Now Anderson, the former batting champ and ignitor for the playoff-favorite Sox, seems sure the next-gen debate is on its way with Howard’s rise this spring to South Bend after a 2021 season of greater development than some of the numbers imply.

“I’m excited to see him this year,” said Anderson, who got to know the Mount Carmel grad as Howard came through the Sox’ Amateur City Elite (ACE) program as a teenager — eventually inviting him to work out with him during recent offseasons.

“He’s been learning from me, learning how to hit, just digging into the game a lot,” said Anderson, who hit with Howard over the winter.

“He’s going to be big for them. They don’t need to give up on him for sure.”

⇒ Meghan Montemurro has a set of write-ups here at the Tribune on a bunch of Cubs prospects. Among them, outfield prospect Yohendrick Piñango, who is just a natural bat-to-ball hitter, but who is going to need more power in his game if he’s going to climb the ladder as a corner outfielder:

“I’ve had that God-given ability to have a good swing, be a good hitter,” Piñango said, “but it’s also something that, even though I do have that ability, I do work on it every day and started since I was young when I was a little kid in the streets of Venezuela playing ball.”

Piñango, 19, didn’t have a typical offseason. He got hit by a baseball in late November and required surgery in December on his left pinky finger, which required three screws to be inserted. The freak injury was the first time Piñango had any health problems in his career, making it tough to deal with at first. But his doctor reassured him after the procedure that it wouldn’t affect his 2022 season.

⇒ Hey, so there are the specifics on that mystery injury over the offseason. Definitely could’ve been way worse!

⇒ Hopefully this isn’t anything serious, as Manny Rodriguez is one of the prospect arms already on the 40-man, who could be needed in the big league bullpen throughout the year:

⇒ Speaking of those Triple-A relief prospects, I mentioned Erich Uelmen and Cayne Ueckert this morning, but they aren’t the only potentially impactful non-40-man arms who could arrive this year:

⇒ Speaking of relief prospects overall, 2021 6th rounder Riley Martin might have to get the very quick bump to High-A. The just-turned-24-year-old lefty threw 4.2 dominant piggyback innings last night for Myrtle Beach, striking out eight.

⇒ Disconcerting news at the top of the draft, where top pitching prospect Dylan Lesko – who had been shooting up the boards enough that many were thinking he would no longer even be there for the Cubs at seven – has the dreaded “arm soreness”:

⇒ If it gets worse than that for Lesko, it could be a problem, whether he was a Cubs target or not – you want as many “top ten talents” to be available in the draft as possible, so that the Cubs can be assured a great opportunity at seven.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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