The Chicago Cubs drafted hometown shortstop and star of the 2014 Jackie Robinson West team that won the Little League World Series Ed Howard on Wednesday night.
The top prospects in Illinois frequently come from the Chicagoland area, which for those who do not live in or near Chicago, means that most of the talented players in Illinois are found in the Chicago suburbs. So when the Jackie Robinson West team not only qualified for the Little League World Series in 2014 but won the whole thing, it was the biggest story in Chicago at the time.
At a time when both the Cubs and White Sox weren’t very good, this talented group of young players from the South Side of Chicago took over the baseball spotlight that summer, with a 12-year-old Ed Howard becoming the star of the first all-black team the Little League World Series had seen in decades.
Smashing baseballs over the fence, being handed the ball to get the team’s final three outs and a defensive ability that made the likes of Barry Larkins’ jaw-drop — nicknaming Howard “Silk” — it’s not a total surprise that Howard went on to become the top prep school player at his position just six years later.
Here are some highlights from that 2014 Jackie Robinson West team, Howard is all over this 5+ minute video.
A kid who simply just loves baseball, Howard has dedicated his life to the sport, cramming as much homework and chores as he could into his free time to make his baseball workouts a priority. In an interview with James Fegan of The Athletic, Howard’s talked about the work ethic he has cultivated from an early age and what many teams found the most impressive about the 18-year-old shortstop.
“I just don’t have the time to just goof around and play games and sit on my phone and talk and stuff like that,” Howard said, squeezing in a recent half-hour interview during his lunch period. “Because I always have something to do. And when I do get the chance to relax, I go to sleep.”
Shortly after his time in the Little League World Series, Howard joined the White Sox ACE program (Amateur City Elite) where he began refining his game, eventually developing a relation with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. Growing up on the South Side, it was clear that Anderson was a role model to Howard and player that he wanted to model his game after.
The two hit it off when Anderson invited the Howard to Guaranteed Rate for his 18th birthday, giving him his cell number and telling the young Chicagoan he’d be “keeping tabs” on him. All of this lined up to the White Sox having a chance to grab Howard with the 11th pick of Wednesday’s MLB draft, but they went with a pitcher and instead he fell to the Cubs at 16th pick.
The White Sox, and Anderson, still showed some love to Howard though, which was nice.
The Mount Carmel shortstop is staying home as the Chicago Cubs made him their first high school player taken in the 1st round since drafting Albert Almora Jr. in 2012. At 18-years-old Howard has a slender 6’2, 180-lbs. frame that many scouts believe could produce more power as Howard builds more muscle. But the Cubs were thrilled to land Howard, a player they admitted after the draft, was at the top of their list.
He’s a glove-first player with incredible footwork and hand speed in the field, watching him field grounders was enough to convince most Cubs fans Howard was the right guy despite the North-Siders desperately needing pitching. He has great contact ability at the plate, with quick hands that allows him to hit to all fields, profiling as a player who will hit for average even if the power numbers never come. But just watch Howard warm-up in this video below and try not to get a little excited about his potential.
But staying in Chicago, at a time where only 7.7 percent of MLB players are Black, Howard could be the guy to bring more attention to Chicago’s baseball players. Howard spoke to that after being drafted on Wednesday:
“There’s a lot of African Americans that can play,” Howard said. “There’s not that many in the league right now, but I definitely think there’s a lot more coming. This is my draft day, so in a few years, I’ll be there. But I hear what (Theo’s) saying. I feel like what’s going on in the world is real crazy. We all got to come together and realize we’re all the same. We’re all human. I feel like everybody should just get along and love everybody.
“Creating diversity is good for baseball. It should be diverse because there’s a lot of big dreams, a lot of African Americans that can play.”
Howard at 18-years-old didn’t get to play in his final season of high school baseball, missed out on his prom and a formal graduation ceremony all due to COVID-19, so his draft night was special. Having his family and friend surround him as it was announced on TV the Cubs were taking him with the 16th pick all seemed too perfect in a time where the rest of the world can’t quite say the same thing.
But Ed Howard isn’t trying to be a good story, he’s isn’t trying to be the savior of Chicago baseball on the South Side, he’s just a kid from Chicago. With a combination of elite talent that is only outshined by his motivation to work hard and get better every day. And it’s his work ethic that will endear him to Cubs fans in just a few short years.