Sox All-Star on Ed Howard: ‘He's going to put on a show'

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DETROIT — Cubs prospect Ed Howard finally delivered his first hit Sunday in his third game at high-A South Bend, then drove in a run with his second hit of the afternoon — the same day White Sox All-Star Tim Anderson knocked three hits in his season debut after serving a leftover suspension from last year

And so it begins.

That’s right.

The debate, the rivalry, the event coming soon to a big-league ballpark near you.

Best Shortstop in Chicago, chapter 2024.

Anderson at least seems pretty sure about that vision for the Cubs touted shortstop prospect Anderson has mentored since before Howard was drafted No. 16 overall by the Cubs in 2020.

“He’s definitely one of those guys that’s going to impact the league,” Anderson said.

Maybe even the balance of shortstop power in Chicago one day. Howard already is rated as the top defensive infielder in the Cubs’ system by Baseball America.

Of course, we heard the last version of this debate rage ad nauseam for the last three or four years in Chicago when Javy Báez was an All-Star Cub and not a Sox division rival in Detroit.

Now Anderson, the former batting champ and ignitor for the playoff-favorite Sox, seems sure the next-gen debate is on its way with Howard’s rise this spring to South Bend after a 2021 season of greater development than some of the numbers imply.

“I’m excited to see him this year,” said Anderson, who got to know the Mount Carmel grad as Howard came through the Sox’ Amateur City Elite (ACE) program as a teenager — eventually inviting him to work out with him during recent offseasons.

“He’s been learning from me, learning how to hit, just digging into the game a lot,” said Anderson, who hit with Howard over the winter.

“He's going to be big for them. They don’t need to give up on him for sure.”

A big year for Howard puts him at Double-A, a phone call from the middle of the Cubs’ infield and possibly, some day, the middle of Jed Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team.”

And whenever that day might come, Anderson sounds a lot more willing to join the media noise on the whole who’s-better, North Side-South Side thing this time around than he was when it was about him and Báez.

“I’ll be talking a little smack to him then, because we’ve got a relationship,” Anderson said. “I don’t really have a relationship with Javy, so I can’t talk smack to him. I don’t know how he’d take it.”

Báez’s departure from the Cubs as part of a roster purge over the last 16 months only made the smack-talking look more inevitable.

“The window’s wide open for him. The lane’s wide open or him,” Anderson said. “All he’s got to do is go out and compete and just play, man. He had a good spring. I was texting back and forth with him. I think the day he had like two hits [in a big-league spring game].”

Anderson might have as good a look at Howard’s development track as anyone in the game, even as some industry rankings have dropped Howard in the Cubs’ organizational rankings since last year, when he had a rough start at low-A Myrtle Beach.

“People got to feel him. They’ve got to understand him, and just watch him grow, man,” Anderson said.

“He’s going to put on a show. And I’m excited for him. And I will be watching, and will be rooting him on. And I will be giving him as much information as he needs.”

Where'd everybody go?

Whether it's a sign the Cubs are starting to overdraw their ATM fan base or that the whole industry pissed some people off with the lockout, there was definitely something the Rickettses and their front office were selling that the fans weren't buying during opening weekend.

Namely tickets.

None of the first three games were sold out, including a 35,112 announced crowd for Opening Day that represented the lowest-attended home opener with full capacity available in nearly 20 years.

And even that 2003 crowd of 29,138 for the Cubs-Expos opener was significantly dampened by the fact that opener had been postponed by snow.

You have to go back to the end of the last labor stoppage — 1995 — to find a lower attended home opener without local extenuating circumstances and/or capacity restrictions.

Maybe a few more doses of Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman will lift the early sales malaise.

Maybe Rob Manfred can give each of the fans, say, a set of Bose headphones as a goodwill gesture and peace offering? Maybe the Cubs owners can stop acting like they own the Royals — or maybe they can move the team to Rosemont?

If none of that works, at least they still have European soccer.

Wait, what? Headphones?

That's right. After unilaterally and unnecessarily locking out the players for three months in a negotiating tactic that stalled talks and free agent spending, the most unpopular baseball commissioner since at least Bowie Kuhn left gifts of fancy headphones to each player before their openers as a so-called peace offering in his attempt to create a better relationship with the union and its rank-and-file.

Here's a thought or three on that relationship: Save the damn headphones. Do something real about the plague of tanking in your sport. Quit treating players like they're a bothersome cost, and recognize that they're the actual game. And allow actual market forces to guide payroll spending — or at the very least stop pretending player salaries are some kind of problem during a time of unprecedented revenues in the sport.

Oh, and stop lying about a lack of correlation between paying players and winning, and stop encouraging the misperception that higher player salaries somehow make ticket prices go up (teams charge whatever they think people will pay regardless of payroll levels, and the prices have yet to drop in proportion to tanking teams' payroll reductions; see: Cubs).

Oh, yeah, and while you're at it, maybe let somebody else present the "piece of metal" to the World Series winners next time around.

Swing tones

With a shoutout to the nerd table at the far end of the press box, we share this nugget from Cubs $99-million rookie Seiya Suzuki’s big debut weekend against the Brewers:

Among the 57 pitches he has seen in the majors through three games, Suzuki has swung and missed only once. Along the way he’s homered, singled twice and hit a sacrifice fly.

He’s also struck out looking four times (matching his walk total).

“He knows his zone and is staying committed to that,” manager David Ross said. “There’s not a lot of even flinching at borderline pitches. He’s also struck out looking a couple times, which tells you how committed he is to his zone.

“He’s not going to chase. If things stay right there, he’ll continue to learn these pitchers and continue on the path he’s on.”

That last point is probably the biggest one. Suzuki swung and missed a lot in his first few games of the spring, as if fishing for what he could hit in the new league of unfamiliar pitchers and unfamiliar stuff.

“I’m not quite there yet in terms of my adjustments,” Suzuki said after Sunday’s game.

And thanks, again, for counting up that swing-and-miss stuff, @MLBastian.

In other words, please don’t be true

Say it ain’t so.

Todd Frazier, the former Reds All-Star and Home Run Derby champ, retired last week — and along with him went the greatest, most out-of-the-blue-(eyes) walkup music in the game.

Whether in Cincinnati, New York or even briefly with the White Sox, Frazier set his unique tone to every at-bat with “Fly Me to the Moon,” the only Frank Sinatra walkup music heard in a big-league ballpark during his decade-long career, when they let him play among the stars.

The New Jersey native once said his grandparents played the song a lot when he was a kid, and then his high school coach also played it during batting practice. And “I just fell in love with it.”

A tip of the fedora to Frazier on the well-played soundtrack of a career.

It's better to have gloved and lost?

Despite the bullpen loss Sunday that prevented a season-opening sweep of the Brewers by the Cubs, one big number stood out above all others:

Zero.

It's not only the number Sunday's starter, Marcus Stroman, wore on his back during an impressive Cubs debut.

It's also the number of errors committed by the Cubs in a remarkably clean series, especially considering they played in adverse weather for two of the three games and finished the series with a third baseman in left field.

Take the poll

If the Cubs proved nothing else over the weekend, it’s that it is, indeed, how you finish, not how you start.

However — and with all due respect to the NL’s blown-saves-leading bullpen — check out the starting rotation performance one series into the season.

Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman allowed two runs in a combined 15 2/3 innings (1.15 ERA) with 15 strikeouts against the defending NL Central champions — albeit against a less-than-fearsome Brewers lineup.

If not for the BS-prone pen, they would have combined for a 3-0 start even on extra-cautious workload restrictions after the short spring training.

GDubGrub

Anyone headed to Pittsburgh for the first time to see this week’s Cubs series already can’t miss on the ballpark experience at beautiful PNC Park. But the shouldn’t-miss experience is across the bridge and about a mile and a half down the road in the Strip District. That’s where the original Primanti Bros. sandwich restaurant and bar — founded in 1933 — is located and open late (though not as late as it was in pre-COVID years).

And by “sandwich,” we mean big, bad, epic and famous sandwiches with fries and cole slow piled on top of a wide choice of meats and cheeses. Don’t fill up on too many hot dogs at the game before heading over (but these things can soak up plenty of beer in the system).

*Sigh* young

Asked a question about his career arc on the day before he made his third consecutive Opening Day start, Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito took the best shot — intentional or not — at assembled grizzled media by a 27-year-old Chicago player since Carlos Zambrano told a rumpled scribe in 2009 that he looked like he sleeps under a bridge.

Said Giolito without a hint of sarcasm or animus: “I’m on the wrong side of 25 now, but I do feel young still.”

Kids say the darndest things.

Probably time for today’s nap on the wrong side of that bridge, anyway.

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