Yesterday, on June 11, the first round of the MLB draft commenced with some outstanding names. The Cubs picked 16th, which was their lowest draft pick since the 2015 MLB draft. In that class, they ended up going with utilityman Ian Happ out of Cincinnati. In this class, they ended up going with hometown Mount Carmel High School shortstop Ed Howard IV.
This is a very interesting pick for the Cubs, especially with the uncertainty of who they would draft. They don’t have a present hole at shortstop and top prospect Nico Hoerner is a plausible big leaguer this season. All of that aside, Howard’s upside, the impact he has on their farm, and how he’ll affect the Cubs’s current core in the future are all great aspects to cover.
Howard’s best aspect of play is clearly his defense. I’m not going to say anything new on this, as so many scouts have touched on how advanced he is there. His natural athleticism plays there well ubiquitously, combining with his speed to give him a good range and arm to allow him to make a wide outcome of plays. He also has quick hands, which should effectively add to that and give him quicker times to throw runners out.
Going back to his speed, it’s worth noting that he has already shown some really strong bright spots. His 60-yard dash time was recorded at 6.76 seconds, putting him in the 89.84th percentile. His home-to-first time was 4.19 seconds, matching up with Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cubs shortstop Javier Báez. They ranked in the 96th and 86th percentile for sprint speed, respectively. The lowest sprint speed with that same time was Kolten Wong, who ranked in the 67th percentile.
What could be the most impressive aspect of his defense is his arm strength. His max arm strength was measured at 88 mph, which put him in the 91.75th percentile. For reference, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. had an average max-effort arm strength of 91.8 mph. It’s worth noting that Tatís and Howard have a similar build, however, Tatís was three years older at the respective times measured.
Howard’s hit tool seems to be of liking to scouts. It’s generally agreed upon that his bat speed is quite impressive, with some adding onto that with notes about hard contact to all fields. Scouts also noted how he makes consistent contact, adding onto to some Tim Anderson-like comparisons, using his .417 batting average to back that up. His baseball IQ should also allow him to grow as he matures in the Cubs’s system. The MLB Pipeline currently has his hit tool graded at 50 on a 20-80 grading tool.
What really could help Howard offensively is his power tool. One point that attracted him to the Cubs was how advanced his workout routine was for a high school student, supposedly more than some college prospects. Given how he’ll be given plenty of time to grow and is only 18, he should mature in the system over time.
However, that’s not to knock the upside he has shown with his power now. To start, his maximum exit velocity was recorded at 95 mph, which put him in the 94.34th percentile. His maximum barrel speed, which measures the speed of the sweet spot of the bat, was 80.354 mph, which put him in a ridiculously high 98.23rd percentile.
To get a bit more advanced, I’ll use impact momentum and max acceleration. The former, which is a combination of barrel speed and the weight of the bat to evaluate the momentum of a bat on impact, had Howard at 30.438, putting him in the 98.29th percentile. Max acceleration determines how quickly a batter can reach their barrel speed, using g to measure force. It had Howard at 44.106 g, ranking him in the 94.45th percentile. The former leads to higher exit velocities while the latter leads to reaching barrel speeds quicker, and Howard excels in both. While maximums aren’t the best for measuring it, it does show what he’s capable of for such a young prospect.
The biggest question mark in Howard’s game is likely his plate discipline, which definitely has lasting concerns for a player. However, albeit with a limited sample and noticeably worse talent, he had a BB% of 12.9 and K% of 13.9 his junior year. It’s not something to be super stoked with, but it’s something to note. Should his discipline be workable with aggressiveness and power growth, he could have an offensive archetype similar to a mix of Baez or Anderson. He’s still really young though, so it’s hard to tell with this being so uncertain.
Howard is joining a growing group of hitters in a growing Cubs system. Already on the MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list stands Nico Hoerner (51), Brennen Davis (78), and Miguel Amaya (95). They also are projected to sign top international shortstop Cristian Hernandez and added top international catcher Ronnie Quintero last season.
Since Howard is only 18 years old, it stands to reason that he may not be up for a while. It’s difficult to determine an exact time given his age/status as a high school graduate, but somewhere in the 2023-2025 range seems appropriate. Given that this is a pretty large time gap from now, it’s hard to approximate how he’ll affect the team then. However, it’s possible to guess some possible outcomes.
It’s important to consider his ETA since it coincides with many expiring contracts. Assuming the earliest in 2023, $123.035M in guaranteed salary will have been removed from the payroll by then. Now, this doesn’t include arbitration, but there’s a very important cast of names in that lost salary. Most notably the Cubs’s big four: Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, and Schwarber.
Now, while the Cubs could definitely keep all four of those names, it seems more than probable that they may not. So, having Howard would help to replace one in the lineup card. The two least expendable are clearly Baez and Bryant, given how they’re the best two players on the team’s hitting core.
Assuming the Cubs keep those two only, it does open some interesting options for lineup depth. Howard and Baez would likely pose an all-around threat on the middle infield, leaving Hoerner a likely short-term second baseman. While it’s unclear where Howard will play long-term, it’s safe to bet on a plethora of opportunities at second base, shortstop, and third base. The Cubs did however start to give him reps in center field, which appears to be a legitimate future possibility.
While that was only one scenario, it does pose how the Cubs have a plethora of opportunities going into the future, and how Howard could help in bulking up that core for potential future losses.
It’s hard to complain about this pick for the Cubs. They’re gambling on his strong upside in their development core with a mid-first round pick. It wasn’t an over-slot pick, and Howard definitely has the capability to help the team in the future. Who knows, maybe he could coerce Tim Anderson into a future destination on the Northside?