It’s safe to say the Cubs surprised a lot of folks last night. Draft experts, fans, and rival executives were not anticipating the Cubs to target Ed Howard, yet his selection has received early, widespread praise.
That praise was aired immediately on ESPN, as Jeff Passan noted he had received a text stating the Cubs selection of Howard as the ‘best pick of the draft’. Such praise might seem hyperbolic, but when you consider that 1) Howard is widely regarded as the best prep shortstop in the draft, 2) has a physical build (6’2, 185) that projects to add power, 3) already shows the defensive acumen of a major leaguer, and 4) maintains a quiet confidence and maturity beyond his years, that praise seems less exaggerative.
To wit, Dan Kantrovitz, the man running point for the Cubs draft, was beyond elated:
“We’re ecstatic. Having the opportunity to select Ed Howard with our first pick was literally our best-case scenario, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Earlier this week, when [the front office] strategized various scenarios, selecting Ed was literally at the top of our list. But, frankly, I didn’t think he’d get to our pick.”
What Howard Brings to the Cubs
Patrick Flowers broke down Ed Howard’s game in a draft profile last month — only to his chagrin, he was doing so as a potential pick for the White Sox. That draft profile obviously still stands, however, and here are the pertinent points:
Ed Howard’s biggest strength — and this is not to take away from his bat — is his glove. Howard isn’t the typical athletic high school infielder, who might or might not stick at shortstop as he makes his way through the system. He’s a no-doubt shortstop, plain and simple.
The six-foot-two, 185-pounder possesses smooth hands with an arm that’s equally strong and accurate. With tons of athleticism and fluidity, he can make throws from all over the position, and usually shows a calm control over his process. He doesn’t panic, or rush on the balls that take him deep in the hole or turn him away from first base.
He’s probably the best defender at the shortstop position in the draft, and he’ll be able to do it at the next level.
Howard’s Long-Term Impact
Howard will be a SS at the big-league level, and it’s not unthinkable to believe he’ll be ready to debut sometime around the 2023 season. Regardless of when, not if, Howard debuts, there’s absolutely no reason to fret about the future of Javier Baez.
The odds remain quite strong that Baez is locked up long-term, and will be a career Cub. This line of thinking might rest in a bit of blind optimism, but it just seems a more-likely-than-not scenario.
Baez will also be no younger than 30 years of age when Howard makes his debut, and while he’ll certainly remain one of the best defensive infielders at that point in his career, his versatility only adds more value. An infield that consists of Baez, Howard, Nico Hoerner, and Anthony Rizzo (with Kris Bryant either in left field or lost to free agency) could be the best in the majors.
And herein lies the point: as good as Javy is defensively, Howard might very well rival (or even surpass) his ability at shortstop. That’s a mind-boggling statement to type; it’s also a statement of fact. Baez would also be a remarkable mentor for the young Howard, whose offensive game shows promise but needs discipline. As Baez enters his prime and learns to harness (and best employ) his aggression, he could dispense that wisdom to Howard, lessening the learning-curve he’ll experience as a rookie.
We also know this front office has an impeccable track record when it comes to identifying position player talent in the first round. The selection of Howard should be seen as an extension of that track record, even if starting pitching depth remains the organization’s biggest need in the farm system.
To that end, the biggest impact Howard has is the immediacy with which his selection influences the rest of the draft. Kantrovitz has a solid history of drafting quality pitching, and one can certainly expect the Cubs to spend the rest of their draft capital on arms. And with several first-round grade arms still available, the Cubs might very well get a steal of a pick in round two. Jared Kelly, for example, is still on the board, and he was my first round mock selection for the Cubs just last month.
There is little doubt Howard will continue to develop, and he should quickly assert himself as one of the Cubs top prospects. That he has the makeup and character the Cubs covet only adds to his aura. Kudos to the front office, drafting for potential without concern about Howard’s non-existent Senior season.
Cubs fans can maintain confidence that Ed Howard will soon be a star on the Northside.
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