Nick Howard, the Cincinnati Reds‘ first-round (No. 19 overall) 2014 draft pick, is not likely to forget July 18, 2014, anytime soon. That evening he made his professional debut on the road in Beloit, Wis. for the Dayton Dragons, Cincinnati’s high-A affiliate. With his team down 4-1, the relief pitcher threw a perfect seventh inning with one strikeout. The Dragons put up a five-spot in the visiting half of the eighth and held the lead, giving Howard a win in his first pro ballgame.
Howard is the most MLB-ready member of the Reds’ 2014 draft class. The 21-year-old pitched in the closer role for College World Series runner-up, University of Virginia. He saved 20 games for the Cavaliers, striking out 60 in 37.2 innings during his 2014 campaign. Like Reds’ starter Mike Leake, he also was a regular on the left side of the infield. Unlike Leake, Howard hums 98 mph cheese and a mid-80s slider with nice bite. He pitched as a starter for the Cavs prior to 2014. He was good, but he didn’t turn into first-round material until moved into the closer role.
The Reds will likely fast track Howard in hopes he will contend for a 2015 middle relief spot. If the 6-foot-3 right-hander tosses five-to-ten more games anywhere close to Friday night’s contest in Beloit, he’ll get a sip of double-A ball before the season is over.
Cincinnati has no reliable options to reach the back-end of their bullpen, and team GM Walt Jocketty is ignoring the issue. During next season’s Spring training middle relievers J.J. Hoover, Manny Parra and Logan Ondrusek will be fighting to stay on the roster — and they’ll have some big-time competition in Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias and Howard.