After Taylor Guerrieri's start on April 20, I ventured north to Washington, D.C. to catch two of St. John's High's games. The Cadets have shortstop Nick Howard, a Virginia signee who also serves as the pitching staff's ace.
Howard has a big frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He moves fine for his size and is sure-handed, but will likely shift to a corner spot at the next level. He is a strong hitter and showed an ability to make contact consistently despite seeing a steady diet of offspeed stuff.
In the first game, on April 21 against Don Bosco High of Ramsey, N.J., Howard went 2-for-2 with a home run, single and walk. He scored twice and drove in two with the homer. St. John's has a short porch with a high wall in right field, but Howard's home run was smoked to right-center field and would have likely cleared any standard fences. Each pitcher that Don Bosco ran out sat in the mid 80s, but mixed in plenty of curveballs and changeups.
"He sees very few fastballs and if he does, they're off the plate," St. John's head coach Mark Gibbs said. "Like with any real good high school hitter, he's getting mostly breaking balls and changeups. It's the way it's been all year, but he's done a good job taking walks when he gets it and being aggressive when he needs to."
The home run was on an outside fastball, but the single was on a hanging curveball inside that he pulled through the hole between shortstop and third base.
Howard got on the mound to face one batter in the seventh, striking him out with a 78 mph slider. He threw three fastballs at 92, 91 and 93 and another slider at 79. Against league rival DeMatha Catholic High (Hyattsville, Md.), Howard started on the hill. He sat 88-90 and pitched a complete game in the 2-1 win. He allowed five hits and three walks while striking out three and showed the same aggressive attitude in both aspects of his game.
"I just bear down and show that bulldog attitude on the mound," Howard said. "At the plate, I just want to crush the ball. I just want to get my pitch and show them who's boss."
Against DeMatha, Howard went 1-for-3 with a walk, single and stolen base.
"On the mound, he's the guy we feel we can throw out there and he's going to take control for seven innings and shut somebody down," Gibbs added. "That's our expectation. He plays the same way every day. He's really matured in the field and at the plate this year. He does a lot for us offensively and we feel like he's a very good defensive high school shortstop."
Don Bosco started senior lefthander Jordan Gross, a Tulane signee. His fastball ranged from 83-87 mph. He has a solid frame at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds with a strong lower half. His curveball was 69-71 and occasionally showed sharp break. He also mixed in a mid-70s changeup.
DeMatha had lefthander Zach Morris start the league contest. He sat 87-88 and touched 90 with his fastball. The Cincinnati commit showed a lot of confidence in his 73-75 curveball. He mixed in an 81 changeup as well.
Morris went 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on three hits. He walked five and hit two, but struck out 11. His batterymate was his younger brother, Justin, a freshman. The younger Morris will be an interesting player to watch. He has a skinny frame at 6-foot-2, 160 pounds, but there is plenty of room to add strength. He showed a strong arm and good swing. He didn't collect a hit, but held is own against Howard. He should benefit greatly from added muscle.
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