By Ben Friedl
Not only did De La Salle Institute pitcher Ben Hernandez and Mount Carmel infielder Ed Howard display their talent to over 50 MLB scouts at the Under Armour All-America game at Wrigley Field Monday, they also represented Chicago high school baseball in one of the most important showcases of the year.
“It felt amazing,” said Howard. “I’m finally an All-American I finally get to step out onto Wrigley Field. It just feels good to know that all my hard work is paying off.”
The All-America Game has taken place at Wrigley since 2008, and has featured players such as White Sox starting pitchers Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech, who participated in 2013.
For Hernandez, following in the footsteps of top pitching prospects of years past by stepping onto the mound at Wrigley fulfilled a life-long dream.
“I remember going to a Cubs game when I was 9 years old, said Hernandez. “I sat behind home plate and soaked it all in — the ivy and the little basket and the fans. You can’t take anything for granted — especially events like this”
Although both Hernandez and Howard grew up playing baseball in Chicago, the two top prospects only met recently. And on Monday, they took the field together for the first time.
“Just being on this ride with him — he goes to a lot of the showcases I go to,” Howard said. “It’s nice to have somebody out there with you.”
Both players not only relished the opportunity to play alongside one another, each savored the chance to socialize and compete against the best high school players in the country.
“It’s humbling because other guys are more talented than you are and their velocity is higher,” said Hernandez. “I’ve also asked other pitchers about pitch grips and pitch sequences — it’s really cool.”
Although Hernandez was able to learn from some of the best high school arms in the country, his own pitch arsenal shouldn’t be shortchanged. With a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, Hernandez features a 4-pitch mix which proved effective in Monday’s showcase, as Hernandez struck out the side in the ninth inning.
Meanwhile Howard, who many scouts say is the number one high school shortstop in the class of 2020 draft class, put in his own solid defensive performance. It’s no wonder that he was given the nickname ‘Silk’ by Hall-of-Fame shortstop Barry Larkin at a young age.
Hernandez and Howard are no strangers to showcases. A few weeks ago, both traveled to Cleveland for MLB All-Star Weekend to participate in the first ever MLB High School All-Star Game.
“From the clubhouse and the chef to the buses and hotels, they treated us like real big leaguers.” said Howard.
While attention from media and scouts is preparing Howard for life in the big leagues, his relationship with Arizona Diamondbacks prospect, and Mount Carmel product Alek Thomas is also one which has prepared him for the spotlight.
“I knew Alek when he was a freshman in high school and I was in 7th or 8th grade,” Howard said. “Then my freshman year we got to play on the same team. He has always been a mentor and really nice to me. He’s been through all of this, so I got to see him grow and see how he went about it. A good guy for me to ask advice for.”
Thomas, who played in the All America game in 2017, was also in Cleveland for All-Star weekend representing the Diamondbacks at the MLB Futures Game, a testament to the talent and development present at Mount Carmel.
“Ed and Alek are great teammates and they lead by example,” Mount Carmel varsity baseball coach Brian Hurry said. “Seeing first hand how hard they’ve worked to develop into the players they are today is really exciting.”
Hernandez and Howard both understand that stellar performances throughout their senior year of high school will increase their chances of being taken in the early rounds of the 2020 MLB Draft. But Hernandez, who’s a UIC commit, doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“I’m just trying to get ready for my senior season, get stronger, eat right, soak that experience in, and then get ready for college,” Hernandez said.
Meanwhile, Howard is committed to play baseball at the University of Oklahoma, the same baseball program that produced Kyler Murray, who also played in the Under Armour All-America game.
“Right now college is my reality, and we’ll see what happens in the draft,” said Howard. “Kyler Murray played in this game and committed to Oklahoma — pretty cool to be following the same path.”
When asked which Chicago team Hernandez and Howard would prefer to play for, each chose opposite sides in the Chicago baseball rivalry.
“Cubs all day,” Hernandez said. “I like the Cubs because I always wanted to be the underdog and grow with them and win a championship.”
“Sox — I’m a South Side kid,” Howard said. “I grew up watching them and am a Sox fan at heart.”
While Hernandez and Howard’s path to the big leagues isn’t set in stone, their involvement with the All-America Game gave both players invaluable scout exposure in preparation for next year’s MLB draft.