Back in June of 2014 the Cincinnati Reds selected Nick Howard out of the University of Virginia. He had spent some time starting at Virginia in his first two seasons, but had transitioned to the bullpen as a junior. A dominant closer, the Reds selected him 19th overall and stated their plan was to use him as a starting pitcher.
The initial results went well. The organization sent him to Dayton following the draft and he threw 33.2 innings with a 3.74 ERA. The right hander was sitting at 94-95 MPH in the rotation and showing a good breaking ball and a solid change up. And he was throwing strikes. The parts were there for Nick Howard to be a starting pitcher if he could handle the workload of a full season.
Things were disastrous the following season, though. Through the first five starts of the season with Daytona, Nick Howard walked 23 batters in 18.2 innings and the team decided to move him into the bullpen. The control problems didn’t get much better from there. Over his next 19 games, all in relief, he walked 27 batters in 19.1 innings before being shut down in July. He wouldn’t pitch again the rest of the season. 2016 was more of the same. In 20.0 innings, all out of the bullpen, the right hander walked 31 batters. Howard was shut down in late June of that season. He would then undergo shoulder surgery.
Nick Howard would miss the entire 2017 regular season. But, he would return to the mound in instructional league and reportedly pitched well. The former 1st round pick is now a 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 in just under two weeks) that hasn’t reached Double-A. The journey hasn’t been an easy one. From dealing with what most of us would refer to as “the yips”, to undergoing surgery and the rehab that comes along with it, the mental toughness has to have been incredibly taxing all on its own.
While out in Goodyear for spring training I had a chance to see Nick Howard pitch twice. The first time my video camera was set up on another field for someone else, but he looked good. The second time I was able to get things set up and get the inning of work against the Milwaukee Brewers. Take a look.
Nick Howard Scouting Report
Fastball | On this particular day the fastball worked 89-91 MPH. When I spoke with people about his time in the instructional league during the offseason I was told his velocity was in the low 90’s. So, he’s in that range now in late March. That’s not quite where he was at prior to his surgery, but it’s also March and there’s a possibility he could add to that as the season progresses.
Curveball | Prior to his injury this was his putaway pitch and you can still see it being that. When it’s at its best it’s still an above-average offering with good 12-6 breaking action.
What stood out the most was something that I wrote about the other day in a quick little update while I was in Goodyear. The way that Nick Howard looked was just different than the previous few years when he was on the mound. It wasn’t the stuff, but his demeanor. His body language. Generally speaking I don’t put much into that kind of stuff, but when there’s a history like that of Howard’s, it was something that stood out and was very noticeable.
What lies ahead for Nick Howard?
I only saw two innings and they were spread across a few days. Nick Howard has had some good outings in the past, even when he was struggling, across the same week. But, he looked different to me. It would certainly be beneficial if he could find a little more velocity and have his fastball creep closer to the mid-90’s that he used to show, though. The curveball still looks quite strong and should play very well as long as he can do what he did while I was watching – and throw strikes with the fastball.
There’s still a long road ahead for Howard, who hasn’t pitched in competitive games that count since June of 2016, and there’s a few steps to climb up the ladder, but for the first time in a while, there’s reason to have some hope in what I’ve seen from the Reds former 1st round pick. Healthy, and seemingly more confident, it’ll be interesting to follow what the righty can do in the first half of the season.