Ed Howard and Brennen Davis are two of the top five prospects in the Chicago Cubs farm system.
The idea of becoming a foundational piece of a rebuild should excite any ballplayer, but for these two young MLB bros, the opportunity to do so in a Cubs uniform can add to a rich history of Black baseball on Chicago’s North Side.
Howard, the 19-year old Chicago kid who rose to fame during his historic Little League World Series run with the Jackie Robinson West program, was selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2020 draft.
The pick was loved all over the city, and Howard seemed more than ready for the challenge of playing at home.
“I was looking forward to it,” Howard told MLB.com. “I wanted to be a hometown kid. 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.”
The 6-foot-2, 185 pound Howard is projected as a plus shortstop with consistent hard contact and gap power with room to grow. The consensus top prep shortstop in his class will be given every opportunity to become a staple of the Cubs middle infield of the future.
But Howard, a smooth fielder, wouldn’t be the first MLB bro to make noise at short for the Cubs.
Made popular by his catchphrase “Let’s play two”, Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks was signed by the Cubs from the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1953. Once in Chicago, Banks quickly cemented himself as the greatest power-hitting shortstop in the game.
After hitting 19 home runs his rookie season, Banks hit 44 bombs the very next year and would go on to hit 40 homers five times from 1955-60. Banks’ unprecedented power from the position wouldn’t be matched until deep into the “steroid era”.
Now for Davis, there aren’t any additional pressures of being a hometown kid, but there are still some lofty expectations being placed on the 21- year old, 2018 second-round pick. Just listen to Iowa Cubs’ manager Marty Pevey:
“I’ve never — and this is the God’s honest truth — I have never seen power like this kid’s going to have. I’m not talking about pull power. I’m talking about just raw, leverage power — like Dale Murphy driving the ball to right-center early in his career. Holy smokes, he’s got some pop.”
Murphy was a great power hitter in his era, but when you began to see “30-30 talent” on scouting reports, you have to immediately think of another former Cub. Andre Dawson flirted with the 30-30 club early in his career but didn’t become a league MVP until joining the Cubs in 1989.
In order to revive the game of baseball in the Black community, we need an influx of young, Black, exciting talent.
With MLB bros like Howard and Davis in the pipeline, the future looks brighter than ever.
Mr. Cub is probably the greatest African-American shortstop to grace the MLB diamond. Banks not only set the standard for black shortstops, but he was the first true power-hitting shortstop in MLB. Banks was A-Rod before A-Rod, an icon who changed the game by providing uncanny power at a position previously reserved for slap hitters.
Banks played 19 years for a losing Cubs franchise and was Wrigley Field’s only bright spot for two decades as he clubbed 512 career homers. In his prime from 1957-1960, averaged a .293 batting average, 44 HR, 123 RBI and won back-to-back NL MVP awards in ’58 and ’59.
“El Capitan” is one of the greatest winners MLB has ever seen. He was the Captain and clutch catalyst for a Yankees Dynasty that won five World Series rings between 1996 and 2009 and lived in the postseason.
Jeter, a 14-time All-Star, is the Yankees all-time hits leader with a whopping 3,465. He has a .310 career batting average and has won five Gold Gloves. His stats are Hall of Fame worthy, but don’t begin to tell the story of his marketing and cultural impact as the flawless face of baseball for 20 years. He led the Yankees to the top of the sports landscape by performing at his best in the biggest moments. “Ice in the veins” should be Jeter’s middle name.
He is arguably the greatest postseason hitter of all time, with a career .308 BA, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 18 SB line in 158 postseason games, earning the name “Mr. November.”
3. Barry Larkin
He was a Black Knight in beast mode as the premier National League shortstop of the 1990s. Larkin was a consistent offensive boss and formidable glove for an inconsistent Cincinnati Reds lineup. He was elected to the All-Star team every year from 1988-2000, winning eight Silver Slugger awards during that span.
Larkin, who played every one of his 19 seasons with the Reds, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012, with a .295 career average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs scored and 379 stolen bases. Larkin scored at least 80 runs in a season seven times, hit 30-plus doubles in six seasons, and stole 30-or-more bases five times. He won his three Gold Glove awards at shortstop en route to a career fielding percentage of .975 and won nine Silver Slugger awards.
Larkin won a World Series in 1990 and then did something that Jeter couldn’t accomplish when he took home NL MVP honors in 1995.
The Wizard is simply the greatest defensive infielder in MLB history and his 43.4 career defensive WAR is the best by any player at the position. Even with the defensive metrics on smash, his .978 fielding percentage and 13 Gold Gloves support his claim to the title of glove king.
Smith is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime talent that you would never understand based on numbers. He was truly a magician with the glove. He was also a huge personality in the game and understood the essence of entertainment as he began each game with his patented backflip.
Smith had artistry, flair, and athletic superiority that put him in another stratosphere. His fielding was so good that people often dogged him for his hitting, which is not shabby at all. Smith had a .262 career average and 2,460 hits. He’s also among the greatest base stealers of all-time with 580 career swipes.
“J-Roll” is one of the most offensively prolific shortstops the game has ever seen. He has 2,455 hits, which includes 511 doubles (53rd all-time), 115 triples, and 231 home runs. He ranks 103rd in career total bases and 83rd in extra-base hits. He’s also stolen 470 bases, good for 46th in MLB history. His 1,421 runs are good for 86th and 936 RBI from pretty much always being in a table-setting position is pretty solid as well.
He makes the all-time Top 20 in almost every offensive statistic for a shortstop and was the centerpiece of a Phillies team that won two NL pennants and a World Series in 2008. He has four Gold Gloves and four seasons of at least 10 Defensive Runs Saved.
J-Roll was a true soul patroller. His 2007 NL MVP award was the stamp that at some point he was the best at his position. Standing a diminutive 5-foot-7, 175-pounds, Rollins defied the odds and continues to be a living example of skills over scales when it comes to the sport of baseball.
Honorable Mention: Maury Wills
Wills didn’t get his Hall of Fame props from the writers, but he was an MLB pioneer and one of the fastest players in history.
Wills was finally nominated by the Golden Era committee in 2014, which could induct managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players for possible election in 2015, but he fell three votes short.
The barn-burner made a living off of his superior wheels as he stole 586 bases in his career, good for 20th all time.
The lack of respect for his career is indicative of the lost appreciation in the modern game for the stolen base, which was a staple of black excellence in baseball ever since No. 42 broke the color barrier in ’47. In 1960, Wills won the first of six straight National League stolen base crowns.