Cincinnati Reds draft Virginia pitcher Nick Howard, Stanford infielder Alex Blandino in first round

Take Cal-Irvine 3B Taylor Sparks in Round 2

CINCINNATI – The Reds picked University of Virginia power pitcher Nick Howard and Stanford infielder Alex Blandino in the first round of the MLB Draft Thursday night.

The Reds stuck with college players all night, going with third baseman Taylor Sparks from the University of California at Irvine in the second round.

All three are playing in the NCAA Super Regionals this weekend.

The right-handed Howard , the 19th overall pick, has been a two-way player for Virginia as a closer and utility infielder, but the Reds plan to develop him as a starting pitcher.

Howard, 21, struck out 50 batters in 29 1/3 innings this season while limiting opponents to a .184 batting average.

He threw 95-97 mph when he was closing and could touch 98 mph.

He is listed as 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.

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Howard set the ACC single-season saves record and broke the school record with 19. He is 2-1 with a 2.15 ERA.

As an infielder, he hit .261 with 20 RBI in 43 games.

The Reds drafted the 21-year-old Blandino , the 29th pick, as a shortstop even though he plays third base for the Cardinal.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder leads Stanford with 12 home runs and has a .312 batting average with 42 RBI in 58 games. He was drafted three years ago out of high school in the 38th round by the A's before choosing to attend Stanford.

The Reds got the 29th pick as compensation for losing free-agent outfielder Shin Soo-Choo to the Rangers.

The Reds went with another infielder in the second round with the 58th overall pick.

The 21-year-old Sparks was the 2014 Big West Conference co-Player of the Year and rated the second-best third baseman in the draft by Baseball America.

Sparks batted .297 with five home runs and 34 RBI in 61 games. But he also struck out 67 times in 232 at-bats.

He's 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds.

The draft continues at 1 p.m. ET Friday with rounds 3-10. Rounds 11-40 will be conducted on Saturday.

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