Cubs prospect Ed Howard IV said he hasn’t stopped to think about what the next Cubs championship core might look like — even if that’s exactly what the Cubs are focusing much of their thoughts on this winter.
“But I know when I get the chance and I’m able to get up there and start playing, I’m ready,” the No. 16 overall pick in the 2020 draft said. “That’s my goal. I want to bring a championship to this city.
“I want another parade, just like in 2014.”
No, he doesn’t mean 2016 — Howard didn’t go to that one.
“We had a parade around the city after the Little League World Series, so I want to do it again with the Chicago Cubs,” he said.
Polished. Confident. Built like a 6-foot-2 big-league shortstop.
All Howard needs now is an actual minor-league game to officially start his professional career and take the next step on the path that might lead to the parade route.
The pandemic that wiped out Howard’s would-be pro debut in 2020 also has contributed to a winter slowdown in hot-stove activity across baseball with nobody stymied more than the Cubs’ front office by financial uncertainty and budget cutting.
That’s why they’re left trying to “thread the needle” of trying to stay competitive in a lackluster division in 2021 while also trying to retool the roster away from the 2016 World Series core and into the next competitive window with its next core.
Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. already are gone after being non-tendered this month. Postseason workhorse Jon Lester had his 2021 option declined. And former MVP Kris Bryant could be the next to depart.
And Howard? How does he fit? How quickly?
Aside from that whole still-hasn’t-played-an-official-pro-game thing, the former Mount Carmel star doesn’t even turn 19 until the end of next month.
“To give him a timeline, I don’t know,” Cubs farm director Matt Dorey said in a brief reality check from praising Howard after recent instructional-league work in Arizona. “He’s a high school shortstop from a cold-weather area. But he’s really advanced in a lot of ways. I don’t want to put any limitations on that. I want him to go out there and just play and not feel like there’s pressure to get to the big leagues tomorrow, because once he does get there I see him sticking and playing shortstop for the Chicago Cubs for a long time.”
Dorey might not have a timeline, but Baseball America offered one this week when it released its ranking of the top 10 Cubs prospects and projected a 2024 Opening Day Cubs lineup — with Howard at shortstop at 22.
For what it’s worth, BA has apparently bailed on an extension for Javy Baez, as the Cubs’ current All-Star shortstop is nowhere to be found in that ’24 lineup, with five other members of the current big-league roster lingering as starters: first baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Nico Hoerner, third baseman David Bote, center fielder Ian Happ and “designated hitter” Victor Caratini (six if you count starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks).
Whether the Cubs agree with that entire projection, it’s certainly what they had in mind for Howard when drafting the star of the 2014 Jackie Robinson Little League squad that won the national title in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (before a disqualification over residency rules).
“Us having the opportunity to take that type of high-upside, high-character shortstop out of high school, with his bat-to-ball skills — that normally just flies off the board in a normal draft well before pick 16,” Dorey said.
The high-character side was on display over the weekend as Howard joined Cubs right-fielder Jason Heyward, Hoerner and former big-league outfielder Curtis Granderson — another Chicago native — delivering baseball equipment, food and COVID-19 safety essentials to those in need in the city as part of a nationwide relief and outreach effort by the newly formed Players Alliance.
Where he goes next in his baseball career, and how quickly the next step leads to Wrigley Field, Howard isn’t sure — especially during an ongoing pandemic that already wiped out one pro season.
“Honestly, I don’t look at it as a loss,” he said of the scuttled 2020 minor-league season. “It was just more time to grind and get better. I took it as an extended offseason, putting on a lot of muscle, getting stronger and working on my game, offensively and defensively.”
Prescribed work from a distance was followed up by more formal, structured work with coaches in Arizona this fall.
“That was my time to get back on the field and get into some live game action,” said Howard, who’s just waiting for word — like everyone else in baseball — on a 2021 schedule that likely would mean starting at single-A Myrtle Beach.
“I’m just looking forward to getting to play,” he said, “getting to my affiliate and starting to play consistently. I don’t have any expectation. I’m just going out there and being me and playing baseball. That’s what I’m here to do.”