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Reds land power arm in top pick Howard

Taken with 19th pick, Virginia right-hander boasts mid-90s fastball

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have coveted big, power arms as starting pitchers from the top end of the Draft in recent years, and their first selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft on Thursday certainly reflected that.

Sticking with that track record, Cincinnati used the 19th overall selection of the first round on right-handed pitcher Nick Howard from the University of Virginia. The 19th overall pick has a slot value of $2,090,500 attached to it.

The 21-year-old Howard, who has been a two-way player for Virginia as a closer and utility infielder, will be developed as a starting pitcher by the Reds.

"We've seen him do both. We think he can start," Reds senior director of amateur scouting Chris Buckley said. "It's good stuff to have. The teams that win and the teams that win in the playoffs, that's what they seem to have. We're definitely trying to get some of those guys in. This guy is everything I like in a pitcher. He's very athletic and a very good baseball player."

In 27 games as a pitcher, Howard has a 2.15 ERA and a school-record 19 saves over 27 games and 29 1/3 innings. Ranked as the No. 31 Draft prospect by, Howard hails from Olney, Md., and is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.

"It's a complete dream come true," Howard said. "I know it's a cliche phrase, but this is what running all of those sprints and logging extra time at the field -- it's all come down to this. It's so gratifying in this experience."

According to scouting reports, Howard was throwing 95-97 mph when he was closing and could touch 98 mph. During his sophomore year at Virginia and last summer in the Cape Cod League, he was used as a starter and threw 90-93 mph. He also features a slider and has a changeup that would need to be developed, as he hasn't used it much.

Earlier in the spring, Howard was named a 2014 Louisville Slugger All-America third team as a relief pitcher in his first season as a closer. As a hitter, he batted .261 with 20 RBIs in 43 games, and .303 over 119 games in his three-year career.

"I'm open to whatever the organization wants me to do. Honestly, as long as I'm out there pitching, it doesn't affect my mindset," Howard said. "Whatever they want me to do, I've been accustomed to it before, and I just can't wait to get started."

On Saturday, Virginia meets Maryland in the Charlottesville Super Regional of the NCAA tournament.

In the 2011 Draft, the Reds took Robert Stephenson with the 27th overall pick before following up in '12 with Nick Travieso as the 14th pick. In '13, with the 38th overall pick in the compensation round, Michael Lorenzen was taken. Both Stephenson and Lorenzen have reached Double-A Pensacola, while Travieso is with Class A Dayton.

All are right-handed pitchers who can reach the upper 90s with their fastball velocity. Howard's velocity started trending upward this season.

"It's physically developing strength in the offseason and the nature of being a reliever [that] definitely contributes to my velocity picking up," Howard said. "I'm only having to throw one or two innings, and that definitely helps. The mechanics, I worked on some things in the summer and started using my legs more."

Howard will be represented by agent Rex Gary once his career is complete at Virginia. He hopes to sign quickly.

"We're on the same page. As soon as I'm done with my collegiate season, I want to go out there and start as quick as possible and get my feet wet," Howard said. "It's always been my dream. I really don't understand the reason to wait. I just want to get started.

"I always see highlights of Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman closing out games. I think it's a great organization. It seems like a great town and a great baseball town. I can't believe I'm a part of it now."

Later in the evening, the Reds used the 29th overall pick to select shortstop Alex Blandino from Stanford University. The selection was compensation for losing free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers.

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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