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Red Sox Top Prospect Voting: Tanner Houck looks to build on a strong second half

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The former first rounder turned it on later in the year

Tanner Houck
Kelly O’Connor; sittingstill.smugmug.com/

After a few close battles in the last few spots on our community list, we had a runaway in the battle for the sixth spot. With this spot we have our third former first-round pick from the organization and the third pitcher on the list. He may have a future in the bullpen, though the team will continue to fight that, and he beat out another right-hander that is certainly heading for the ‘pen. Taking the sixth spot with 25 of 47 votes (53 percent), Tanner Houck is sixth on our community top prospect list.

In our last spot we talked about a different first-round pitcher selection with Jay Groome, but this is certainly a different situation for Houck. The righty was never a potential 1-1 selection in the draft, and he wasn’t really seen as a faller that the Red Sox had to take in their position. Instead, he was a potential quick-mover the Red Sox were connected to for much of the time leading up to that draft. So, it was not much of a surprise when the team selected the University of Missouri product with the 24th overall pick. He eventually signed for a $2.6 million signing bonus and was in the organization.

Houck did get a chance to take the mound ten times in that first summer after being drafted, though after a full college season the team wasn’t going to push him too much and he only tossed 22 23 innings in those ten starts. Still, he looked solid down in Lowell in that first taste of pro balls, pitching to a 3.63 ERA with 25 strikeouts and eight walks over that span. It wasn’t dominant or totally eye-opening, but it was a solid start.

Tanner Houck
Kelly O’Connor; https://sittingstill.smugmug.com

It was also good enough for him to get pushed up to Salem, skipping Greenville altogether. That kind of jump isn’t exactly unheard of for college pitchers, particularly those who are as relatively solid as Houck, but it was still aggressive. It showed, too, as the then-21-year-old got off to a rocky start in High-A. Over his first eleven starts of the year he pitched to an ugly 6.16 ERA, striking out 38 batters in 49 23 innings with 37 walks while allowing an .867 OPS. That is not what you want to see from your fast-tracked first-round pick. He turned it around in a big way in the second half, though, pitching to a 2.86 ERA over his last 12 starts of the year. Over those 69 13 innings he struck out 73 batters with only 23 walks and allowed an OPS of just .601. He was a completely different guy.

That’s not just an expression based on his numbers, either. Houck legitimately was a completely different guy over the second half of that season. During his college career, the righty had always relied largely on a two-seam fastball off which the rest of his arsenal built. The Red Sox believed he’d have more success with a four-seam fastball, though, and made that his focal point to start the 2018 season. That clearly wasn’t working and they allowed him to move back to the two-seamer. The results speak for themselves. The bad news here is that the two-seamer comes with a lower arm slot, and that along with his still-developing changeup could lead him to a bullpen role in the near-future. Houck has a big fastball and an impressive breaking ball, so a relief role wouldn’t be a total loss, but his build makes him an ideal starter. If his changeup takes a step forward this year, our ranking is probably a bit low, but the lack of sustained success as a starter keeps his stock down for the moment.

Houck is likely to start the 2018 season in Portland’s rotation, and the way his season starts is going to be fascinating to watch. We assume he’s going to be back to the two-seam-heavy arsenal, and the changeup development will be most important to watch. If it doesn’t, don’t be too surprised if the team cuts bait with the rotation role and shifts him to the bullpen at some point later in the summer. I’d probably bet on that happening after the season, but as we saw with Travis Lakins last year this front office isn’t shy with making that switch when the writing is on the wall.

Here’s our list so far:

  1. Michael Chavis
  2. Darwinzon Hernandez
  3. Triston Casas
  4. Bobby Dalbec
  5. Jay Groome
  6. Tanner Houck

Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number seven. As a reminder, to do this you go down below and find the comment from me corresponding with the player for whom you’d like to vote. When you find said player, just click the “rec” button, and that will count your vote. To do this, you will need to be logged in as a member of the site. If you’d like to vote for a player who is not listed, just leave a comment saying “Vote for ___ here” and I’ll rec the comment to count your vote. Until next time...