The Red Sox selected Tanner Houck with their first pick of the 2017 MLB draft, the 24th overall selection. The big righty out of the University of Missouri has been attached to the Red Sox throughout draft season and makes sense as a prototypical Dave Dombrowski target. There are plenty of positives associated with the big righty, and some negatives as well. Let’s take a deeper look at what exactly the Red Sox got.
Houck has the body of a starting pitcher, standing at 6’5”, 220 pounds. Just speaking from a purely physical standpoint, he should be able to handle the rigors of a long major-league season. On top of that, he has had big-time success in the Southeastern Conference, which is arguably the top NCAA baseball conference in the country. He was particularly impressive in his first two seasons with the University of Missouri. In fact, there were some that thought he could be a potential top pick this summer at some points in 2016.
It’s not just the performance and the physical stature that stands out, either. There is real talent here. When Houck is going well, the righty can get his fastball up in the mid-to-high 90’s with sink. Some scouts have put a 70 grade on the offering, which would rank it as elite. In addition to the big fastball, Houck has shown the ability to limit walks. His walk-rates through college weren’t elite by any measure, but keeping them around two per nine innings throughout his career is a good building block.
Really, the strengths come down to the size, the fastball and the track record, but that’s not a bad building block by any stretch of the imagination.
While Hock has his big fastball, the righty doesn’t impress nearly to the same extent with his secondary offerings. His primary secondary is a slider, which isn’t a horrible pitch and has shown flashes throughout his college career. However, there is a lot of inconsistency with the pitch at this point and it is average at best. His changeup has only recently started to become a big part of his repertoire, and it only flashes average at times.
To go along with his secondary pitches, Houck also has a funky delivery. The righty throws from a low arm slot and his front foot lands off towards third base. Upon landing, his body will shift towards the first base line. It’s not at all an ideal delivery, but to be fair it is one he has shown an ability to repeat.
The delivery isn’t one that will have him destined for a bullpen role all by itself, but that combined his pitch mix beyond the big fastball have that possibility on many people’s minds. For all of the specific weaknesses in Houck’s game, they all come down to the chance of him ending up as a reliever.
As a college pitcher, it seems logical that the Red Sox will send Houck to Lowell in 2017. There is some speculation that Boston could keep him in the bullpen to start his career and allow him to fly through the system and eventually pitch out of the major-league ‘pen sooner rather than later. It’s a strategy we’ve seen work before, most notably with this guy named Chris Sale.
It’s not a strategy the Red Sox generally take to, however, and I wouldn’t expect them to do it here. Although it’s true that Dave Dombrowski hasn’t been here very long, those in charge of player development have been in the organization for a long time, and I can’t imagine them changing their philosophy now. Instead, I imagine they’ll start him in Lowell’s rotation and try to limit his innings, although not to the extent they did with Jason Groome a year ago. I expect him to throw about two or three innings per start for about five or six outings, much like Mike Shawaryn did a year ago.
Well, this is the big question, isn’t it? The talent is here for Houck to be a successfull pick. The fastball is a legitimate out pitch, and if he can get consistency with his slider and his changeup he can be a stud. He’s looked like that guy before, and a down (relatively speaking) junior year isn’t enough to say it’s not possible for him to get back to that level. I suspect the Red Sox will keep Houck as a starter in full-season ball for as long as possible. The hope is that professional coaching staffs will be able to get those secondaries to the next level and keep his delivery in check to the point that he won’t tire out late in games. Even if that doesn’t happen, the Red Sox have a chance at an impact reliever, and that’s not a bad consolation prize.