You have probably heard that this year’s draft is stacked with talent. You probably salivate at the chance the Mariners have to grab a future star at the Number 6 overall spot. If you’re at all like me, you watched about 30 seconds of footage of Ed Howard before asserting with calm confidence, “Yes, that’s him. That’s the guy.”
Howard jumped near the front of the 2020 draft class with strong performances on the showcase circuit last summer. Widely considered the best prep infielder available this year, his defensive tools immediately stand out. He’s athletic and rangy at shortstop. Not only can he reach batted balls, but he shows a quick release and accurate throws from all angles. He takes a huge amount of pride in his defense, and it shows. He told Baseball America, “I try to be perfect at shortstop...as a shortstop I think that should be a main priority, to be a solid defender.” He goes on to say that his favorite players have always been shortstops, including his current favorite, hometown White Sox shortstop, Tim Anderson.
Already clocking in at 6’2” and 185 pounds, there’s some talk about him moving to third base in the future if he fills in and adds bulk to his frame. Howard seems pretty determined to stick at short, and looks to have the athleticism and movement necessary to stay at shortstop long term.
Illinois 2020 SS Ed Howard (@ehowardIV) jumped eight more spots in our newest rankings.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) September 5, 2019
He's now one of the top 5 high school draft prospects in the country https://t.co/f7omgaaiJT pic.twitter.com/tAC8urw4CE
His batting is secondary to his defense, but still impressive. Howard’s unadorned swing features a slightly open stance and quick hands. His swing is simple and easily repeatable. He’s shown a good sense of the strike zone and pitch recognition. That eye, combined with his bat speed and hip torque, leads to good contact and and a natural loft. Right now, he’s a gap-to-gap hitter who consistently makes loud contact, and Perfect Game puts his exit velocity in the 94th percentile. It’s easy to see how power could develop from his fundamentals.
Here’s a slow-mo look at his swing:
Here's a look at potential top 10 pick in June, SS Ed Howard. Strong athletic build. Special bat speed with little wasted movement. Potential for 60 power. Also + range in the field with arm for short. Exciting profile for a SS. #MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/2sYpbHUG9x— Kyler Peterson (@KPeterson813) January 30, 2020
Howard is currently committed to the University of Oklahoma. In an interview with Medill Reports, he notes that Kyler Murray played in some of the same showcase games and was an Oklahoma commit as well. It’s “pretty cool to be following the same path” he said. While Murray decided to try his luck at football, Howard’s focus is entirely on baseball. He stopped playing basketball after his freshman year of high school in order to put his attention solely on baseball, finding it difficult to keep on weight due to the physical demands of basketball.
The Chicago area is not a hot-bed of baseball talent. In fact, the last time an Illinois high school position player was taken in the first round of the draft was all the way back in 1997 (Jayson Werth), five years before Howard was born. Howard has had the benefit of seeing a high school teammate of his go through the scouting and drafting process. Alek Thomas, a second round pick in the Arizona Diamondback’s organization, has been giving Howard advice and guidance since the latter was in middle school. Although he says he’s focused on moving on to college next, he’s likely to change his mind come June.
Howard is solidly in the first round on draft boards. MLB Pipeline puts him at #12, Prospects Live mock drafted him to the Mariners at #6, and Baseball America currently puts him as the #6 high school prospect in the country.
Despite the recent explosion in coverage, Howard isn’t a stranger to the national baseball stage. In 2014, he played on the Jackie Robinson West Little League team that won the US Title and advanced to the championship game of the Little League World Series.
Even at 12 he displayed his smooth, easy fielding, and a confidence in his play:
Howard says he has always gravitated toward shortstops as his favorite players. He models himself after Manny Machado, telling Baseball America, “I like the way he plays. A lot of people don’t like the way he plays, but as far as his baseball skill set, I like his defense. Just really smooth, laid back with a strong arm. Offensively, he’s more of a gap-to-gap guy too, but he has pull power also. Just his size, he’s long and lanky, and I just kind of see myself as filling out to be kind of like him.”
Howard’s top prospect status is already paying off. This is how he spent his 18th birthday:
If you’re interested in catching a glimpse of him before the draft, he’s set to appear in the National High School Invitational representing Mount Carmel High School April 1-4th.
And, maybe, you’ll be able to see him live in Everett next summer.