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Cubs Prospect Perspective: Ed Howard

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He’ll still be just 20 years old for the 2022 season, and his 2021 season was spent catching up.

Ed Howard Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

This one has been a while in the making. I have comments on Cubs prospect Ed Howard. They can cut rather counter to some assessments of him. Also, my assessments can tend to have blowback other assessments tend to ignore, disregard, or minimize. Assessing Howard in 2021 often involves accurately assessing an entire slew of data points that have next to nothing to do with the player in question. Toss in a rather notable veer, and my assessment of Howard is mine, and mine alone.

Are you familiar with Renaissance-era authors in Bolivia? I’m not. As such, if anyone were to ask me what my opinion of Bolivian authors in the Renaissance era was, I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea why anyone would fancy my opinion on said topic. I’m uninformed, and largely not particularly interested in the topic, so my opinion should be ignored.

On the other hand, I spend quite a bit of time in late February and all through March to June minding college baseball games. Which, largely, have a glimmer of interest only slightly higher than Bolivian authors in the Renaissance. (Or, maybe not even that high.) People may or may not care about my thoughts on Southeastern Conference or Atlantic Coast Conference pitchers, but I’m more at-ease talking with a bit of confidence about them than Bolivian writers.

To have any realistic knowledge of the pitchers the Cubs Low-A affiliates were going to face the first six weeks of the 2021 season, some basic knowledge of 2020 ACC and SEC pitchers would have been helpful. A handful of the pitchers the Myrtle Beach Pelicans were going to face had pitched in rather advanced college conferences in 2020. Conversely, most of the 2021 Pelicans hitters not only played no college games in 2020, they weren’t at the Cubs alternate training site in 2020. Players who largely missed any organized team activities in 2020 started 2021 far behind players who played four weeks of major college ball before the 2021 season started.

Ed Howard, shortstop

Born January 28, 2002, Evergreen Park, Illinois
Cubs 1st Round choice in 2020, 15th overall, from Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago

To the extent there are consensus opinions on preps, Howard’s was rather unanimous. His glove was more advanced than his bat. Any well-researched article probably noted that. Whereas, with Cristian Hernandez, the inverse was considered true. The bat was more advanced for the internationally-signed Hernandez. The agreement was rather widespread.

If a player goes an extended period of time without any reasonable development, they will fall behind similarly valued players who performed well over said interval. Whether the period of inactivity was due to injury, laziness, poor planning, or being kept out of the team’s training facilities. Players who missed Power Four Conference games due to COVID might, or might not, have been able to partially use their college facilities in the interim. Howard’s most advanced facility, realistically, had been Mt. Carmel High School’s weight room. I have no idea how those facilities rank with regards to SEC/ACC complexes, but I’m guessing they’re “somewhat smaller.”

If you thought Howard (with no realistic competitive improvement likelihood from January 2020 until minor league spring training camp in 2021) would hold level with Cole Wilcox (who was fantastic in college at Georgia in 2020), why would that be? Wilcox had an ERA of below 2.00 in four college starts representing the SEC. Ed Howard had a bit of time in Instructs. Over ten Low-A starts in 2021, Wilcox was better than most of his competition, not just when facing Howard. That wasn’t much of a surprise, if you were familiar with Wilcox. As Wilcox underwent Tommy John surgery in September, Howard will have a chance to get a bit caught up in 2022.

Players usually get better when they have a chance to play. Sometimes, given a chance to play, players backslide. Howard’s OPS in May was .533, which tumbled to .352 in June. July (.561), August (.702) and September (.655) were tolerable for a defense-first shortstop well behind many of the pitchers he faced most of the season.

Realistically? 2021 for Howard can be given an “Incomplete” grade. If his bat advances, now that he grasps pro pitching better, he’ll be fine. If his bat doesn’t develop, you’re free to take that as a clarion call that hitting prep pitching is easier than hitting pro pitching. Which you should have already known. I’m not predicting Howard will, or won’t, turn it around in 2022 and beyond. I will predict, though, his defense should remain useful.