CHICAGO -- Dan Kantrovitz had seen plenty of video of shortstop prospect Ed Howard. The Cubs' new vice president of scouting had met Howard in person, observed his swing in the indoor batting cages at Wrigley Field and had lengthy conversations with the Chicago kid and his family.
There was one more thing that caught Kantrovitz's eye in the days leading up to the Cubs picking Howard 16th overall in Wednesday's MLB Draft.
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During the scouting process, Kantrovitz and members of his team held Zoom calls with around 150 players. In a video conference with Howard, Kantrovitz caught a glimpse of something at the bottom of the screen in the prep star's hand. It was Howard's baseball glove, slid over his left hand for no reason other than a constant love for the game.
"The moment that we realized he was wearing his glove," Kantrovitz said, "and was just champing at the bit to get out on the field and take ground balls and play, we knew that he had the intangibles that we were looking for."
Asked about that moment on Wedesday night, Howard let out a slight laugh.
"I'm always laying around the house throwing the ball up," he said, "playing around with my glove, swinging a bat in the living room, things like that. I love playing the game."
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And the Cubs loved that Howard -- a product of Mount Carmel High School and a member of the 2014 Jackie Robinson West team that reached the Little League World Series finals -- was still available when their pick arrived in the first round. The way Kantrovitz explained it, the 18-year-old Howard was always Chicago's top target at No. 16.
• Howard among alumni of MLB programs drafted in Round 1
That feeling dated back to January, when Kantrovitz was still in the early days of joining the Cubs as the new orchestrator for their Draft. Chicago overhauled its player development and scouting departments over the offseason, bringing in new eyes, plotting new strategies and processes and continuing to modernize behind the scenes.
On a flight from California to Chicago back then, Kantrovitz pored over video of Howard's at-bats and defensive plays before a planned meeting with the shortstop at Wrigley Field. When Kantrovitz reached the ballpark and saw Howard (the 2019-20 Gatorade Illinois Baseball Player of the Year) in person, he was taken aback.
"He had put on at least 10-15 pounds of just pure muscle," Kantrovitz said. "I'm thinking, 'Wow, this is a different kid than we saw over the summer.' And then once we saw him take some hacks in the batting cage at Wrigley, the sound it made coming off his bat and just the way he moved and utilized his body and the leverage, it really stood out."
After Howard went through a workout for Kantrovitz and the Cubs' evaluators, they retreated to the team's offices and sat down with his parents, Ed Howard III and Calandra Howard. They got to know Howard a little bit more and offered some insight into the Cubs' player development process. Those conversations continued over Zoom.
Howard blew Kantrovitz away with his advanced, detailed workout routine for both defensive drills and offensive work. Kantrovitz said the prep star's routine was better than some college players the Cubs scouted. They broke down video of at-bats together as a group. And the Cubs also asked Howard for his thoughts about potentially playing for a hometown team and dealing with all the pressure that could come with it.
Once again, Howard put any possible concerns to rest with his answers.
"I was looking forward to it. I wanted to be a hometown kid," Howard said. "I'm excited it's with the Cubs. I think that's a great organization. I watch a lot of Cubs games, follow them, know a lot of their players and things like that, so I’m excited to be a hometown guy. It's special."
Five picks earlier, Howard could have been a "hometown guy" picked by the White Sox, but they went with Tennessee left-hander Garrett Crochet. Kantrovitz admitted that there were at least two teams he thought might have snagged Howard before the Cubs had the opportunity, adding that it would be "reasonable" to guess the White Sox as one.
This is where it is also worth mentioning that Howard has forged a friendship with White Sox star shortstop Tim Anderson. Howard looks up to Anderson and even reached out to the big leaguer after being picked by the Cubs.
"It's special," Howard said. "I've gotten closer to him, and I see how he does things on the South Side of Chicago and I just want to imitate that and bring it to the North Side. I'll be myself. I'll play my own game. He'll be Tim Anderson. I'll be Ed Howard. But definitely, I"m excited to be here in Chicago and get to represent the Cubs."
In Howard, the Cubs picked up the consensus top prep shortstop in the 2020 Draft class. During his junior season at Mount Carmel, Howard hit .421 (48-for-114) with three homers, 11 doubles and four triples in 35 games. He was named a 2020 preseason All-American by Perfect Game and is now the first Illinois high school position player to be drafted in the first round since Jayson Werth in 1997.
It was during the Little League World Series run that Barry Larkin gave the nickname "Silk" to Howard during a broadcast for his smooth play in the field. It should come as no surprise that Kantrovitz thinks the now 6-foot-2, 185-pound Howard can stick at shortstop and grow into a plus shortstop with consistent hard contact and gap power with room to grow.
The 16th overall pick comes with a slot value of $3,745,500 this year (out of the Cubs' overall allotted $6,721,600). This also marks the first time the Cubs have taken a high schooler with their top overall pick since 2012, when Chicago selected outfielder Albert Almora Jr.
When Howard's senior year was wiped away by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a shock to his system.
"Honestly, I really didn't believe that the season could really get canceled like that," Howard said. "Who would've thought that my senior year would get canceled? But, once that was over, I kind of had to move my eyes and attention on to the next step. And for me, that was just putting in the work."
All that work culminated in Howard being picked by the Cubs on Wednesday night. And that was precisely the way Kantrovitz hoped things would play out.
"We're ecstatic," Kantrovitz said. "Having the opportunity to select Ed Howard with our first pick was literally our best-case scenario, and we couldn't be more thrilled. Earlier this week, when [the front office] strategized various scenarios, selecting Ed was literally at the top of our list. But, frankly, I didn't think he'd get to our pick.
The Draft continues today with Rounds 2-5. The MLB Network preview show begins at 3 p.m. CT, with live coverage on MLB Network and ESPN2 beginning at 4 p.m. CT. Go to MLB.com/Draft for complete coverage, including every pick on the Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.