The first round of the first draft for new Cubs VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz couldn't have unfolded any better. He got his guy.
“I think it’s reasonable to expect the other local team to be in on Ed as much as we were. But I would say with every pick after the ninth or 10th pick, we’re taking deep breaths, hoping that he was going to get to us,” Kantrovitz said after the completion of the first round last night.
"This is a guy that he's a plus shortstop. He's got pop in his bat. He can run. He can impact a game in so many ways and we think he's got a chance to be a star." -- Kantrovitz, on Ed Howard
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 11, 2020
A smooth defender with soft hands, quick actions around the second base bag, and the range (and arm) to make plays deep in the hole; You won't find many scouts who question whether Howard can stick at shortstop long term. It seems to be a foregone conclusion to most. His body and athletic profile both point to a player that should retain his range and flexibility throughout his pro career.
While his defense is often mentioned first, don't sleep on his upside at the plate. His hands are quick and strong. We're not talking Javy Baez level bat speed, but its well above average and perhaps even plus. Howard possessed wiry strength last summer, and was considered a line drive hitter with only projectable power, but he's now beginning to fill out his 6'2" frame. He added 15 pounds of good muscle since then and I think the power may be developed quicker than some scouting reports indicate. You can see in the video below from last season the way he's capable of whipping the bat through the zone.
When doing my initial evaluation I considered him as a 15-home run type upside guy, but the more I watch, and the more I see of how his body is developing in recent videos in combination with the bat speed and hand strength I saw last year, I now think there may be more. Depending on how his swing develops and what type of launch angle profile he ultimately settles into 20+ home run power is very possible. The Cubs succesfully (and quickly) managed to tweak the swings of recent high draft picks Nico Hoerner and Brennan Davis in order to better utilize their skills. I expect similar results with Howard, who is as good of an athlete, and also is lauded for the same type of work ethic as Hoerner and Davis.
Ed Howard (@ehowardIV) throwing up a last-minute reminder for interested teams on his IG story
He’s our top-ranked SS entering the draft.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) June 10, 2020
I’m really curious when this video was taken (@JWeisser88?), because it might be the most recent swings available on tape that I’ve seen. Some of the upper body muscle development looks to be accounted for there, in a way it’s not from the vids last summerhttps://t.co/O7nSudFOkG
— Cubs Prospects - Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 11, 2020
Howard's bat speed and hand strength should allow for plenty of barrel control and contact ability. His hit tool may fall a bit short of Hoerner, but it could end up being close. The most pressing question becomes what his pitch recognition and plate discipline will look like against top competition. We've seen this be a challenge for not just Hoerner, but Albert Almora as well. Being able to adjust and make contact is one thing. Making sure you swing at the right pitch is what separates the ones who make an impact versus the ones that get stuck in part time roles.
11.) Ed Howard (SS, Mount Carmel (IL). @OU_Baseball commit. Athletic shortstop is smooth & silky at the six-spot, capable of making both the routine & highlight reel play look easy. Offensively, he projects as a top-of-the-order stick.#MLBDraft Top 125: https://t.co/qz4pHXLIAI pic.twitter.com/G9o88LtKrT
— 2080 Baseball (@2080ball) June 10, 2020
Howard has had less exposure against high level competition coming from a cold weather state, which also meant he was unable to showcase himself this spring as the Illinois high school season was cancelled before it began. I think a lot of the scouts from national publications are cautious in their evaluation of his offensive upside simply because they've seen him less (and not for some time). But it also means Howard hasn't had the same exposure to elite velocity and offspeed stuff as other top prospects in the draft. He could have provided more certainty in that regard had he been able to play this spring, but for now, it remains an open question.