The Cubs’ farm system experienced a series of big blows last year as several highly-ranked prospects missed time due to injuries and subsequent surgeries. Ed Howard hurt his hip on a freak play when he stumbled running to first base and had season-ending surgery in May. Alexander Canario likewise took a spill while running to first and underwent surgery to repair a broken ankle and dislocated shoulder. Brennen Davis had surgery to alleviate pressure on a nerve in his back and later experienced an unrelated stress reaction in his back.
Howard’s issue was probably the least consequential of the three because he’s still in the lower levels of the minors and isn’t expected to contribute to the big club anytime soon. He also won’t turn 21 until later this month, so he’s got time on his side. But having just finished The Last Folk Hero, the newest Bo Jackson biography by Jeff Pearlman, I’m aware that recovery from hip injuries is not to be taken for granted.
The latest update on Howard is very positive, however, and it sounds like he’s on or ahead of schedule in his rehab. Cubs VP of player development Jared Banner joined David Haugh and Bruce Levine on 670 The Score’s Inside the Clubhouse Saturday morning to discuss a number of topics, chief among them the health of those three prospects.
“Ed is just starting to hit in the cage,” Banner said. “I was actually with him yesterday down in Arizona, he looks great. The hip is feeling good, so he’s just in his progression after a very serious injury. We expect him to be ready to go for the start of spring training without limitations, so we’re really excited about that.
“Of course, missing the half of the season that he missed there’s a little time to make up for. But I think he’s really extremely young, extremely athletic, and he’s used this time really wisely in terms of trying to improve his game in other ways.”
That’s very good to hear. Though Banner didn’t get into specifics about an assignment, it’s reasonable to believe Howard will be back at High-A South Bend after having gotten just 93 plate appearances there in 2022. His .244 average was 19 points higher than he posted at Low-A Myrtle Beach in ’21, plus his walk rate was nearly twice as high and his strikeout rate was 10 points lower.
If the man they call Silk can continue his offensive improvement while also showcasing the smooth defense that earned him that nickname, he’ll quickly make up for lost time. It’s hard to say whether the same is true of Davis, who has had a difficult time finding consistent plate appearances as a pro. While it’s unfair to tag him as injury-prone, concerns about his development as a result of those injuries are warranted.
Davis, who didn’t truly focus on baseball until he was drafted, really needs to put together a full season in ’23. The organization is sure hoping for that because getting a more accurate projection for what Davis can be will likely inform their decision on Ian Happ‘s future and their additional free agent pursuits. The 23-year-old has potential coming out of his ears, now it’s just a matter of staying on the field.
“Was just with Brennen Davis also, he’ll be a full-go going into camp,” Banner added. “He is just working out every day, building himself back up. Looks great, he was just hitting with Cody Bellinger on the field recently. So he’s awesome.”
As for Canario, well, he’s still going to be out for a while and Banner could offer nothing concrete as far as a timeline. Based on my limited research and a little common sense, it appears unlikely the outfielder will be able to resume baseball activities until after spring training. A return later in the season isn’t out of the question if all goes well.
In keeping with the rest of the front office, Banner is pretty cagey and stuck mainly to idioms when discussing plans for Matt Mervis and Pete Crow-Armstrong. The farm director would only say that the goal is to have Mervis ready so that he can contribute in Chicago when the time comes. Similarly, he said the goal with Crow-Armstrong is simply to prepare him for what’s next.
The Mervis stuff comes across as typical exec-speak, though it’s possible to interpret it a different way if you tend to lean a little more toward pessimism. In Eric Hosmer, the Cubs have a lefty-batting first baseman on a minimum salary who offers them a known commodity from a production standpoint. Some believe Hosmer is there to keep Mervis in the minors, an idea Banner’s comments could be seen as supporting.
I still believe Mervis will get a 40-man spot once camp opens and the Cubs place Canario and other injured players on the 60-day IL. Even if Hosmer is there as the primary first baseman, Mervis should be at DH because he is one of the few players who can supply the power this roster so desperately needs. Since he’s not yet on the roster and since Banner’s role is not to determine what happens with the big club, he’s got to be coy.
In any case, the injury updates are incredibly positive for players, organization, and fans. Even if you remain lukewarm or cooler on the Cubs’ outlook for this year, there will be some really exciting action in the minors.