Reds Tab Howard with Top Selection

Thursday night every team took steps toward adding new talent to their organizations in from this year's June draft. Cincinnati used their first selection, and 19th overall, on University of Virginia closer Nick Howard. He had a nice collegiate career as a two-way player, but now is likely a candidate for the Reds for the Reds to develop as a starting pitcher.

For the second year in a row Cincinnati has invested their top pick on a college player. This year's selection, the 19th overall, is University of Virginia right-hander Nick Howard. After starting earlier in his collegiate career he settled into a closer role his junior season with the Cavaliers and was named to the All American Third Team as a reliever. He was 1st team All-ACC as a utility player while hitting .261 and posting a 2.15 ERA and 19 saves in 27 appearances on the mound.

Howard stands 6'4"/215# and came to Virginia from St. John's College High School in Onley, MD. While pitching as a Sunday starter his sophomore season his fastball topped out in the low 90's, but he's since been able to run it up around 98 this year while relieving. He mixes that with a mid-80's slider that is good at times, but inconsistent. Against NCAA competition this season he rang up fifty strikeouts in 29 innings.

There was some thought that Howard could go back into a starting role and Cincinnati must have been included amongst them for him to be selected with the early pick. They haven't been bashful to move college relievers into starting roles recently, most notably 2011 3rd rounder Tony Cingrani and last year's competitive balance selection, Michael Lorenzen who closed at Rice and Fullerton respectively.

Actually Howard was probably a little disappointed by his offense this year after hitting .323 the previous season. Perhaps it was development of plate discipline that limited his on-base percentage drop to only .030' while his averaged dipped .062'. If so, that development will likely be halted for a while because he'll be spending his time working on his game on the mound.

The improvement needs of Howard are the same as pretty much any young pitching prospect beginning a professional career: improve command and develop a third pitch. His success at doing those will be huge on his chances of remaining in the rotation. He's in the early stages of developing a changeup and he needs to better avoid locating his fastball up in the zone.

Howard is 21 years old and likely headed to Billings in the Pioneer League where many prospects debut after playing collegiately. Last year's Reds first-rounder, outfielder Phillip Ervin, started out there before finishing his season at low-A Dayton. Perhaps the Reds have notions of fast-tracking him like they did with competitive balance selection Lorenzen who, like Howard, was a two-way player. Lorezen was able to fill up his closet with uniforms after playing at Arizona, Dayton, Bakersfield, and Pensacola. He didn't really put up any meaningful stats because he didn't stay anywhere longer than 9 games, which was the number or appearances he made at Dayton while keeping his ERA at zero. Not one to stay put, Lorenzen then participated in the Arizona Fall League. This year he has a mid-two ERA after twelve starts at Dayton.

Depending on what mock draft one checks, Howard might be a bit of a reach at no. 19. So was another Nick, 2012 Reds top pick Travieso who now has a low-three ERA as a 20 year-old in the Midwest League. He should be very sign-able since his other main option is to return for a senior year at college. Last year Ervin signed at recommended slot value for his draft position.

Howard won't be the only first-rounder for Cincinnati in this year's draft. As compensation for losing Shin-soo Choo to free agency they also got the 29th overall selection which they turned into Stanford shortsop Alex Blandino.

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