Ryan L. Fox
It can be noted that the pitching performance of the Boston Red Sox in the 2019 season has been very lackluster. Most notable, the Red Sox bullpen has been the Achilles heel. They allowed the likes of RHP Joe Kelly and RHP Craig Kimbrel to leave for free agency and have yet to find a consistent replacement for either of them.
Although many experts believe that the Red Sox farm system was bare, nothing left to either make an impact on the team or be a key trade piece.
Enter RHP Tanner Houck.
Ranked as the #5 prospect in the Red Sox farm system according to MLB.com, Houck brings not only a strong, hard throwing stuff but also could be a pitcher that can help boost the Red Sox in more ways than one.
Full Name: Tanner Lee Houck
Date of Birth: June 29, 1996
Birthplace: Collinsville, IL
Age Going into 2019 Season: 22 (turned 23 after June 29 of this year)
Primary Position: Starter
Secondary Position: Reliever
Acquired: Drafted in 1st Round by the Boston Red Sox (24th overall) during 2017 MLB Amateur Draft
School: University of Missouri
Background Prior to 2019
Houck was originally drafted out of Collinsville High School, in Collinsville, IL, by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 12th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Rather than sign with the Blue Jays, Houck decided to attend the University of Missouri.
In 3 years pitching for the Missouri Tigers in the SEC, Houck composed a career record of 17-18 with a career ERA of 3.26 and a career WHIP of 1.04. Houck was also able to amass 292 strikeouts while posting an 8.6 K/9 for his collegiate career. During his time at Missouri, Houck was selected to the 2015 US Collegiate National Team. He appeared in 4 games, starting in 3 of them, and went 1-1 with an ERA of 2.16. He pitched in 16.2 innings while allowing 13 hits 5 runs (4 earned), 1 walk, and struck out a team-high 14 opposing batters.
Then in 2017, the Boston Red Sox drafted Houck with the 24th pick overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. Houck signed with the Red Sox on June 21 and was assigned to the Lowell Spinners of Short-Season A. Houck appeared in 10 games with the Spinners (starting all of them) and composed a record of 0-3 with an ERA of 3.63 and a WHIP of 1.30. He also accumulated 25 strikeouts (a K/9 of 10.1) and held opposing batters to a .239 average in 22.1 innings pitched.
Prior to the start of the 2018 season, Houck was promoted all the way to the Salem Red Sox in Advanced-A, bypassing Single-A. At first, Houck seemed to struggle with control as his ERA ballooned up as high as 6.26. However he was able to string together a few good outings to get the ERA back down to something reasonable. Unfortunately Houck went on the disabled list in mid-August, cutting his season short. But for the year, Houck made 23 starts in 23 appearances, going 7-11 with an ERA of 4.24, a WHIP of 1.43, a K/9 of 8.4, and held opposing batters to a .245 average. He also gave up 68 runs (56 earned) while walking 60 batters while striking out 111 in 119.0 innings pitched.
Prior to the start of the 2019 season, Houck was promoted to the Portland Sea Dogs in Double-A. Houck was able to enjoy some success in Double-A. He started 15 games out of 17 appearances, going 8-6 with an ERA of 4.25, a WHIP of 1.43, a K/9 of 8.7, and held opposing batters to a .270 average. He also gave up 41 runs (39 earned) while walking 32 batters while striking out 80 batters in 82.2 innings pitched. Houck also pitched a complete game shutout back in a 7-0 victory against the Hartford Yardgoats back on April 22 at Hadlock Field (the game was called after 5 innings due to weather). Because of his successful first half of the season, Houck was selected as an Eastern League All-Star as well.
Then on July 13, Houck was promoted to the Pawtucket Red Sox of Triple-A.
Houck made his first appearance that same day in a 2-1 win for the PawSox against the Louisville Bats at McCoy stadium. Houck came in relief in the top 7th and pitched the entire inning, allowing only 2 walks, 0 hits, and 0 runs. Houck made 3 more appearances after that as each time, he held the opposing team scoreless.
Overall, in 4 appearances with the PawSox Houck has an ERA of 0.00 while holding batters to an average of .071, a WHIP of 1.29, and recorded a K/9 of 3.6 in 4.2 innings pitched. He also has allowed just 1 hit, 5 walks, and struck out 2 batters.
Houck has quickly risen all the way through the Red Sox farm system in such a short time. There were concerns for Houck coming out of college as scouts saw he had a lower arm slot at point of release (a low three-quarters release). Ironically enough, Red Sox starter Chris Sale also had the same concerns which is possible why the Red Sox drafted Houck, believing he could of the similar pitching mold as Sale.
Scouting reports also have said that he has a two-seam fast ball that usually ranges from 92-96 mph but can top out at 98 mph. Houck also has a slider that ranges from 82-86 mph that has a good lateral break and has bat missing potential.
However the drawback on Houck is his changeup. Although scouts have clocked it between 86-88 mph, they also noted that there is a wild inconsistency with it due to
Already scouts pictured Houck as a ‘late inning reliever’, they believe that if he is able to develop and refine his changeup then he could potential be a back-end/middle-of-the-rotation starter.
At the rate the Red Sox are playing, the playoff aspirations are slowly dwindling. That being said, it wouldn’t be any surprise that Houck might get called up to the bigs for a couple of relief appearances in the coming weeks or even days. Also with the MLB Trade Deadline a a few days away, another reason the Red Sox could call Houck up will be to showcase him to other teams in hopes that one would be willing to trade for him.
But if nothing of that materializes, the smart play would be to let Houck finish out the year in Triple-A with the PawSox. Although his current numbers are impressive (0.00 ERA and opposing batting average of .071), he is giving up to many walks in just a short amount of time (5 walks in 4.2 IP for a BB/9 of 9.6). By allowing him to continue to pitch at Triple-A, this will give Houck a chance to get a grasp of the speed of the game to help him deal against real major league talent at the Triple-A level, allowing him to find better control and aim with his pitches so that he could generate more swings-and-misses as well as cut down on allowing walks. Not to mention and refine his changeup so he could develop it into a potential 3rd pitch that will allow him to have success at the major league level.
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