Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 10

Nick Howard was the big name in Cincinnati’s 2014 draft. The Reds tagged the UVa right-hander with the 19th overall selection after a final collegiate season that saw him dominate in a closer role. After his single-A debut last year the Reds sent him to the Arizona Fall League as they work to convert him back into the rotation.

Nick Howard became a high-profile prospect in the Cincinnati system when they drafted him out of the University of Virginia with their first pick (19th overall) last June. In college he was a candidate for an award given to the top two-way player in the country, but his offensive production as an infielder declined from the previous season. That’s okay though because it was his arm that gained attention from the Reds as he moved from the Cavalier rotation to become a lockdown closer with 19 saves, a 2.15 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 29 innings. After signing he debuted at low-A Dayton and worked both in the rotation and out of the pen while posting a 3.74 ernie in 33 innings.

His draft position was high for a reliever and Cincinnati confirmed rotation plans for him in the Arizona Fall League where he made six starts and gave up a mid-four ERA in 20 innings. Though he acquitted himself well, Dayton was probably an aggressive start and he didn’t log much action so it’s probably a good place for him to begin the 2015 season around the time he turns 22 years old.

On the mound he uses a powerful 6’4”/215# frame with an efficient delivery to dial up his mid-90’s fastball which has topped out at 98. That is his bread-and-butter pitch and he mixes it with an elusive curve with a top-to-bottom trajectory that has shown flashes at being a plus pitch if consistency is improved. To remain a starter he’ll need a third offering and he mixes in a changeup that has been okay in the past with good arm motion and arrival around ten mph slower than his heater. His command allows him to attack the plate aggressively, but will need some improvement if he’s to remain in the rotation.

But for now it appears that Cincinnati wants him to start. He doesn’t expect to have a walk rate high enough for concerns and in his brief action last year his WHIP wasn’t bad (1.158) versus Midwest League hitters. There will always be opportunity to move him into the bullpen later and it might even prompt a swifter arrival for an MLB debut. He’ll forego time working on his hitting to fine tune his delivery off the mound so don’t be surprised if he remains in the rotation for a while.

Even the downside of this prospect is good, an effective reliever capable of taking a fast track to the majors. His future in the rotation isn’t as certain, but it won’t be off the table any time soon. There’s a lot to like about this right-hander and he’s one of the safer bets to make a significant impact at the MLB level. Not much improvement over his 2014 performance would be needed for a second half promotion to Daytona which would put him in a position to crack the upper development levels in 2016.

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