As you probably already know, the Reds selected Nick Howard, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Virginia, in the first round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft. It’s a selection that made me stand up and say “wahoowa.”
Admittedly, I don’t follow the draft particularly closely. I watch MLB Network once the draft begins, but I don’t research prospects beforehand with an eye on determining who the Reds should select. The club has way more information than me, and besides, they don’t listen to anything I say or write anyway. Which is probably a good thing.
There were, however, three players selected on the first day of the draft whose amateur careers I have been following. One of those was Nick Howard.
At the bottom of this post, I’ll put the various scouting reports that are out there. But first, let me tell you what I know about this guy.
Howard, of course, is a third year student at my alma mater, and he’s probably my favorite player on the UVa baseball team. Virginia is one of the elite programs in college baseball, having been ranked #1 in the polls for most of this season, and I have watched a substantial number of the team’s games over Howard’s career.
Nick Howard went undrafted out of high school in Olney, MD, despite being a top-100 national prospect, and the #1 recruit from the state of Maryland. For most of his career at Virginia, he’s been a two-way player. As a third baseman and shortstop, Howard has hit .303/.345/.400 in Virginia’s small-ball offense. He was actually named to last year’s NCAA tournament Charlottesville Regional All-Tournament team as a shortstop, though most of his time in the field has been spent at the hot corner.
I really started paying attention to Howard last season, when he was Virginia’s usual Sunday starting pitcher. He was 6-4 with a 3.38 ERA, striking out 52 hitters and walking just 15 in 61.1 innings.
This season, however, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor made the decision to use Howard at the back of the bullpen. This allowed Howard to amp up his fastball in those shorter outings, and he routinely reached 96-98 mph. His slider was often devastating, as well; I can remember a particularly beautiful one against Florida State a couple of weeks ago that made an FSU hitter look silly.
As a closer, Howard has been nothing short of brilliant: 2-1, 2.15 ERA, with 50 strikeouts in 29.1 innings (allowing 12 walks). Hitters are “hitting” .184 against him, and he has recorded 19 saves. I love the “bulldog” mentality that he shows on the mound. No fear. And though this is meaningless, he also has a delivery that reminds me of a right-handed Danny Hultzen (a UVa pitcher who was selected #2 overall in 2011).
Virginia, of course, is the highest remaining national seed still alive in the NCAA Tournament. You can watch Howard this weekend, in UVa’s Super Regional matchup against the Maryland Terrapins on ESPN. My son is playing in a baseball tournament out of town this weekend, or I would be in the stands at Davenport Field in Charlottesville. Either way, Nation, you have your marching orders: root for UVa to win and advance to the College World Series, so we can see Howard in action as often as possible.
I don’t know whether Howard will ever make the big leagues. What I do know is that he’s a fun kid to watch, with a boatload of talent in that right arm. I’m glad he’s a member of the Cincinnati Reds organization. Now I just have to figure out how to get him to come on the podcast with me.
MLB.com: A Sunday starter as a sophomore and a two-way player throughout his career at Virginia, Howard settled in as the Cavaliers’ closer in 2014. A team that thinks he might have the profile to go back to starting might take him in the early rounds.
As a starter, both at Virginia and in the Cape Cod League, Howard would throw his fastball in the 90-93 mph range, occasionally touching 94. In short relief, he’s been up to 95-97 and touching 98 mph. His mid-80s slider has tilt and bite when it’s good, but it can get slurvy at times.
He doesn’t use his changeup much, and it’s the development of that third pitch, along with refined fastball command — he has a tendency to be up in the zone — that will determine if he can start at the next level. Howard is very athletic, and there’s the chance he can take the leap forward that many two-way players do when they give up hitting.
CBS Sports: Howard has been the Cavaliers’ regular third baseman for two years now, but his future is on the mound. After a brief trial in the rotation as a sophomore, Howard moved into the bullpen full-time as a junior, where he can air out his mid-90s fastball and hard low-80s curveball. He also throws a curveball and changeup but has shelved them as a reliever. Howard misses bats with ease — hr came into the week with 50 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings — and is extremely aggressive on the mound. He should move quickly.
Baseball America: The Cavaliers have moved him to a relief role, where Howard has developed into an aggressive strike-throwing machine with power stuff and malicious intent. He was averaging 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings and had allowed just 18 baserunners through 23 innings. He pitches aggressively off a fastball that ranges from 93-96 mph and touches higher. Howard’s curveball comes and goes, at times showing power and 12-to-6 shape, but he doesn’t always throw it with conviction. He also throws a slider and changeup at times, all the while employing Virginia’s trademark delivery that starts with bent knees. Howard’s four-pitch mix and athleticism give him a chance to start, but he could zip to the majors as a reliever.