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September 14, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Tanner Houck



First-round pick Tanner Houck had an up and down first pro season with Lowell. He threw 22 1/3 innings, allowing 21 hits and walking eight while striking out 25, good for a 3.63 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. I had the chance to see Houck three times earlier in the season and wrote about it in an earlier Scouting Scratch. Recently, I caught his penultimate start. In that two-inning outing, in the first inning he showed the potential premium stuff that led the Red Sox to take him 24th overall before running into trouble in his second inning, albeit as a result of some poor defense. 

Houck hasn’t altered his delivery since he entered the organization, starting on the first base side before stepping towards the third base dugout and coming across his body. While the delivery isn’t what you look for in a starter, he repeats it well and more importantly is comfortable with it. It is off-putting, especially for right-handed hitters. When he’s keeping the ball down, he will generate a lot of weak contact on the ground. 

In the first inning of this start, he showed all three of his pitches and showed a much-improved changeup compared to earlier in the season to compliment his fastball and slider. His low arm slot does give left-handers a good look at the ball, making development of his changeup a key for him to stick as a starter long term.

In the first inning, Houck sat 93-94 mph with his fastball. The pitch showed life and sink and elicited two swinging strikes, one against a righty and one against a lefty. He threw seven of his eight fastballs for strikes and commanded the offering down in the zone, overwhelming the Staten Island hitters. 

Houck mixed in both his secondary pitches as well, both to great effect. His threw his slider 80-82 mph, slower than earlier in the year, but it had more depth and tilt. The pitch was still sweepy and at times later in the outing he got on the side of it, but it flashed above-average potential. 

The improvement on his changeup was most encouraging, as he showed more feel than earlier in the season. He had rarely mixed the pitch in early in the year, but on this occasion he showed confidence in the pitch and threw it with deceptive arm speed. It was especially effective against left-handed hitters, eliciting a pair of swinging strikes on changeups that showed late fade, falling off the table down and out of the zone, away from the hitter’s swing path. 

While Houck dominated in the first inning, flashing three above-average pitches and the ability to control all of them and locate down in the zone, he ran into trouble in the second and his stuff wasn’t as crisp. The inning was lengthened by two defensive misplays, most notably an error by the third baseman on a potential double play ball that could have ended the inning, but Houck’s fastball velocity took a slight tick down to 91-93 mph, and it lacked the finish it had in the first inning. He struggled to locate the pitch and left a few up in the zone, where the pitch flattened out. 

Houck’s secondary pitches also came and went more in the second inning. He threw a few average-to-better ones, but also some below-average ones, including getting on the side of his slider. 

Even though the second inning wasn’t as good as the first, this was still the best Houck’s stuff had looked overall. In other outings, his velocity was higher, but on this day he showed the ability to locate his fastball at 93-94 mph with sink, and if he can comfortably pitch at that velocity it will give hitters a lot of trouble. Similarly, if he can continue to refine his changeup and improve his consistency with both his secondary offerings, it will go a long way to alleviating concerns that he is a potential bullpen arm long-term.

Photo credit: Tanner Houck by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.

 
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