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Reds’ top draft choice to join Dragons

Nick Howard could be counted upon to play any infield position while helping make the University of Virginia an NCAA baseball power. The Cincinnati Reds would be fine with just one: power pitcher.

“It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I gave up the bat and glove,” said Howard, the Reds’ recent No. 1 draft choice who landed with the low-Class A Dayton Dragons on Wednesday following an extended run in the College World Series. “It really hasn’t hit me yet. Once I start getting in the routine it’ll be a little bit different just being a pitcher.”

Idle for about 10 days since the college season ended, Howard will likely be added to the Dragons roster in the next few days. That would mean the last three Reds’ top draft choices would be Dragons, including outfielder Phil Ervin (2013) and pitcher Nick Travieso (’12).

Another Reds’ first-round pick, shortstop Alex Blandino of Stanford, was taken with the 29th pick and is playing rookie ball at Billings, Mont.

Howard, 21, is a native of Olney, Md. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander is initially projected as a reliever but ultimately a starting pitcher. He was the Reds’ top draft pick and went No. 19 overall in the first round of last month’s draft. Multiple reports have him signing for a bonus of nearly $2 million.

He consistently throws in the mid-90s. He was at his best in his third and final season at Virginia. As the Cavaliers’ closer, he was 2-2 with a 1.91 ERA, appearing in 31 games and collecting a single-season Atlantic Coast Conference record of 20 saves.

He also allowed the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning and was tagged with the loss in Vanderbilt’s NCAA title clinching 3-2 defeat of Virginia in the CWS at Omaha, Neb., on June 30.

In addition to closer, Howard also was a designated hitter and first baseman at Virginia. He was the Cavs’ third baseman as a sophomore.

The Reds were among several teams to express extra interest in Howard prior to the draft. He said he was happily surprised to be chosen by the Dragons’ parent club.

“Obviously, you never really know about the draft,” he said. “The Reds were definitely excited to get things going and I was excited to get picked by them.

“It’s a very exciting time. It’s what I’ve been working for my entire baseball career. To finally get here and experience what it’s like to be a professional baseball player, it’s a dream come true.”

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