And Stuart Chester, who proclaims himself as that backer, says the Rockies on Friday drafted a pitcher in Sam Howard with the talent, command of pitches and location to move up quickly in the organization.
“I really see Sam climbing very fast with the Rockies,” said Chester, the head coach of the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes who guided Howard during the two years he pitched for the Canes. “I expect to turn on the TV and watch Sam very soon.”
Howard, a left-hander, is a bit more modest in his expectations.
“My goals right now,” Howard said, “are to just get out there [with the Rockies’ organization] and learn from the older guys that have more experience and taking everything from the coaches and give it 100 percent and go as far as I can for the Rockies.”
Howard was drafted with the 82nd overall pick in the third round of the Major League Baseball Draft.
He is the ninth former Cane drafted by Major League Baseball and the fifth top-three round selection of the [head baseball coach] Rodney Hennon era at Georgia Southern, where Howard has been honing his pitching craft the past three years.
That draft status was no doubt impacted by his performance for the Eagles this past season, when he compiled a 7-6 record with a 2.35 ERA as a key part of the Eagles’ pitching staff.
Howard put a bow on the year with a complete game shutout of the No. 5 national seed Florida State Seminoles, allowing just two hits and four walks while striking out 10 batters in a 7-0 win in the NCAA Tallahassee regional.
The former Cane closed out his baseball career at Georgia Southern just as impressively by allowing four earned runs in the stretch run of May. He finished second on the team in ERA, wins, starts and innings pitched. He led the squad with 94 strikeouts to just 22 walks.
Howard said although he didn’t know which team would pick him up or exactly when he would be drafted, it was still a thrill when it actually happened Friday.
“To be honest, I was speechless. It was unbelieveable,” said Howard. “I heard my name on TV with all my friends and family.”
Howard said he has spoken with too many scouts and noted other signs not to feel he would be drafted this year.
“I knew since last fall because I was sitting down with teams in person and talked to them all spring and them being at all my starts,” he said. “I knew it was going to happen but I wasn’t sure when.
“A lot of teams were trying to get me, so it was a matter of who got me first. I didn’t get a phone call from my adviser saying, ‘Hey, they’re actually taking you.’”
Howard said he didn’t feel he had a realistic chance at playing professional baseball until he started playing at Georgia Southern.
“In high school I didn’t know,” he said. “I was a real late bloomer. My senior year, I had a great year but really I didn’t have a clue. Teams weren’t talking to me. They were talking to my parents. That’s something I didn’t know about then.”
Howard said although he didn’t know he would be drafted by the Rockies, he has had contact with their representative in Georgia and also knows one of their players.
“Their area scout for Georgia, Alan Matthews, I talked to him throughout the year and after I was selected,” he said. “When I played summer league in Cape Cod, my host family that I lived with had hosted D.J. LeMahieu, their starting second baseman. When he was in college, he played at my team in Cape Cod.
“When I was up there living with them, the Rockies came to Boston to play the Red Sox. He [D.J.] came out a day early so I got to hang out with him a little bit and talk to him about the big leagues. Now I’m getting drafted by the same organization; it’s pretty cool.”
Although Howard doesn’t know the particulars of the Rockies’ plans for him, he has a general idea what lies immediately ahead.
“I got a phone call from Alan Matthews right after my name was called,” Howard said. “He said enjoy your time with your family [and] they’re happy to have me in their organization. They’ll be getting in touch with me about when I have to report for my physical and everything.
“I’ll probably have to fly out next week and get started.”
Another person who wasn’t surprised to see Howard get drafted is Chester.
“I knew he was going to get drafted,” Chester said. “He has too much talent. I’m very excited for him.”
Chester said he also has been speaking with Howard some and has been in touch with scouts.
He said anticipation grew after Howard defeated highly regarded Florida State in the regionals in May 30.
“That was classic Sam Howard,” Chester said.
He said he saw similar performances by Howard the two years he was on the Cane varsity.
“He was a pitcher and also an athlete,” Chester said. “He was a great outfielder with good range and hit the ball pretty well. But he was so valuable on mound for us we had to have him there. He was also a good leader.
“As far as the mound, he could control a game, take it over and shut the other team down and give you a chance to win.”
Chester said Howard did that a lot at Cartersville.
“As a coach, you are always thinking of your pitcher and what you’ll do the next day and usually you are very restless. I slept very good when Sam Howard was going to be the pitcher.”
He recalled that Howard grew into a big-time pitcher.
“When Sam started as a freshmen, he wasn’t big or intimidating,” Chester said. “He had that growth spurt late.”
Chester said Howard has other gifts needed by pitchers.
“You want a guy like Sam on your team because of his class and leadership,” he said. “He’s the type of kid who can change a program by how he carries himself.”
Chester said Howard is also a gifted pitcher.
“He has command of three pitches — some have command of one and only throw it. He has a fastball, a slider and a changeup that he can get over for a strike.
“He also has confidence in his spots, his location and pitches for contact. He can pitch 94, 95 miles per hour and can finesse you. He’s the total package and on the mound he’s very fluid. He has a live arm.
“The Rockies have a player who can play ball for life.”
As a sophomore with Georgia Southern, he went 6-7 with a 5.55 ERA in 23 games. He made 11 starts and struck out 87 batters while walking 35 in 84.1 innings pitched. He allowed four home runs. He was second on the team with 9.28 strikeouts per nine innings.
As a freshman he posted a 3-1 record with a 5.18 ERA in 12 appearances and three starts. He recorded his first career start against Mercer and allowed five runs on five hits in three innings.
At Cartersville, he was selected to Team Georgia and was named a Northwest Georgia All-Star. He finished his senior season with a 9-1 record and a 1.53 ERA in 59.1 innings. He struck out 87 batters and walked 22. He was named the team MVP and best pitcher.