MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Reliever Howard may have future as starter

Reliever Howard may have future as starter

Virginia has produced a number of notable two-way players in recent years, including big leaguers Sean Doolittle and Joe Koshansky, and Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 Draft. The Cavaliers have another one this spring in Nick Howard, whose stock was surging as much as any pitcher's in the last couple of weeks before the Draft.

A reliever and part-time DH as a freshman in 2012, Howard served as Virginia's Sunday starter and played regularly at third base and shortstop last year. This spring, he has doubled as a dominant closer (2.22 ERA, 18 saves and 50 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings entering the NCAA playoffs) and as a DH/first baseman (.261/.314/.333).

As those strikeout numbers suggest, Howard has electric stuff. As a reliever, he has consistently overmatched hitters with a 94-98 mph fastball that features some tailing action as well as an 82-85 mph slider with late break.

The question isn't whether Howard will go in the first round -- he will, somewhere in the middle -- but what role he will play in pro ball. If he stays in the bullpen, he could rocket quickly to the Major Leagues. But he also has a 6-foot-3 frame and a repertoire built for the rotation, though he'll need to improve his changeup and command.

"He can do both, maybe relieve this year for you in the Majors and come back as a starter next year, like Chris Sale," an American League scouting director said. "If you're picking 12-25 and you want a college arm, who else are you going to take? You know you're getting a rock-solid bullpen arm with not a lot of innings on his arm and you might be able to convert him to a starter.

"If you want to know what he looks like as a starter, you could see him in the Cape Cod League last summer. He was 90-94 mph as a starter and he didn't have the breaking ball he has now. I've seen 97 mph this year, he's touched 98 and now he has a slider."

Not only has Howard's performance elevated his Draft status, but so, too, has the attrition that has struck the college-pitching crop. With right-handers Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina) and Erick Fedde (Nevada-Las Vegas) needing Tommy John surgery, and some healthy uncertainties surrounding lefties Kyle Freeland (Evansville) and Brandon Finnegan (Texas Christian), Howard could be the fourth- or fifth-best college arm on some clubs' Draft boards.

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