Draft 2014: Reds draft 3B Taylor Sparks No. 58

CINCINNATI -- With their second-round pick, 58th overall, in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft on Thursday, the Reds selected third baseman Taylor Sparks from the University of California at Irvine.

A 21-year-old who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Sparks was the 2014 Big West Conference co-Player of the Year and a member of the U.S. National Collegiate team. He was ranked No. 56 among Draft prospects by MLB.com and the second-best third baseman in the Draft by Baseball America.

"Sparks is regarded as a very good defensive third baseman," said John Manuel of Baseball America on MLB Network's Draft coverage Thursday night. "The whole key here with Sparks is how much contact he will make. [His] strikeout rate was up this year, and the walk rate was down. That's why he fell a little bit in the Draft. He had a chance to be a first-rounder coming in."

In 61 games this season, Sparks is batting .297/.383/.491 with five home runs and 34 RBIs. In 232 at-bats, he's struck out 67 times with 27 walks. He is a native of Long Beach, Calif.

Earlier in the Draft with their two first-round picks, the Reds took right-handed pitcher Nick Howard at No. 19 overall from the University of Virginia. Selected at No. 29 was another infielder in shortstop Alex Blandino out of Stanford.

All three players have something in common in that they are all still playing out their seasons in the NCAA Super Regionals and trying to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

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

Reds land power arm in top pick Howard

Draft 2014: Reds draft RHP Nick Howard No. 19

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 MLB.com, 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 MLB.com pregame show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m.

Cincinnati tabs shortstop Blandino at No. 29

Draft 2014: Reds draft SS Alex Blandino No. 29

CINCINNATI -- The late first-round compensation picks can provide an added top-shelf prospect. In 2007, the Reds got third baseman Todd Frazier with the 34th overall pick, and he's since become a lineup mainstay.

This year, with the 29th overall selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft on Thursday, the Reds made a similar choice when they picked shortstop Alex Blandino out of Stanford University.

"Like Alex, Todd Frazier was a shortstop," Reds senior director of amateur scouting Chris Buckley said. "Todd got beat out to be the USA shortstop by Zack Cozart. It fits right into [our club] as a baseball player and a high-character guy."

2014 Draft Central

The 29th pick came to Cincinnati as compensation for losing free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers. For the bonus money, this pick has a $1,788,000 slot value.

Blandino, 21, believes he can follow the type of blueprint that players like Frazier have established.

"The Reds have done a great job developing their players from an organizational level, drafting guys and moving them and having them be successful in the Majors," Blandino said. "That's something I'm excited about, and I don't know down the road what position I'm going to end up at, [but] I feel comfortable and confident I can play shortstop."

In Nashville, Tenn., with Stanford on the eve of playing Vanderbilt in the NCAA Super Regionals, Blandino was with his parents when he learned of his selection in the Draft. It turned out that his father, Tomas, had a big affinity for the Big Red Machine -- like many baseball fans of the 1970s.

"He told me the first Major League game he ever watched [on TV] in Nicaragua was a game the Cincinnati Reds were playing," said Blandino, who grew up in Palo Alto, Calif., near his college campus. "It's one of his favorite teams initially before he came to the States. I thought that was really cool. It was something I didn't know about until today."

Blandino, who is listed at 6-feet and 190 pounds, was ranked as the 52nd-best Draft prospect by MLB.com. Buckley, however, did not believe that the Reds were reaching up too high to take Blandino at 29.

"That's very subjective. It could be who that particular writer got his information from or whatever," Buckley said. "We've scouted him. We've seen him a lot. He plays at a high level. We're excited to have him."

In 58 games this season for Stanford, Blandino batted .312 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs. He has played both shortstop and third base during his collegiate career.

"Alex is very versatile. We've seen him play a number of positions," Buckley said. "We think he's a good hitter. We're going to give him a chance to play shortstop."

Blandino also spent time last summer playing in the Cape Cod League. He was previously picked in the 38th round by the A's in 2011.

"I'm really excited to get the chance to go back over to short and show what I can do there," Blandino said. "I'm ready to get after it as soon as the college season is over. But we're really trying to make a push for Omaha. We're two wins away. It's something I haven't done in my time at Stanford, and something I want to do before I leave."

Another past first-round compensation pick, right-handed pitcher Michael Lorenzen, was the 38th overall selection in last year's Draft. Lorenzen, the organization's No. 4 prospect, is currently at Double-A Pensacola and was in big league camp as a non-roster player during Spring Training.

With their first-round pick this year, 19th overall, the Reds selected right-handed pitcher Nick Howard out of the University of Virginia.

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