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September 11, 2020 at 1:30 PM

Scouting Report Updates: Tanner Houck and CJ Chatham

Our newest scouting report updates include a pair of top-20 prospects who have spent time on the Red Sox taxi squad this season, RHP Tanner Houck and IF CJ Chatham. Both are on the cusp of making their major league debuts at some point soon, and reports are that the former could debut as soon as this weekend.

SoxProspects.com scouting reports are written by our scouting team, led by Director of Scouting Ian Cundall.

Tanner Houck, right-handed pitcher

Physical Description: Tall, athletic pitcher's frame. Type of frame you look for in a pitcher. High waist, long limbs. Minimal remaining projection.

Mechanics: Throws from a low three-quarters arm slot. Utilizes a full wind up. Starts on the first base side of the rubber. Long arm action including elbow climb in the back and high leg kick. Cross-fire delivery is very tough on right-handed hitters. Gets good extension to the plate. Very quick arm. Unique delivery with a lot of effort, but it works for him. Has worked on staying squarer to the plate with very obvious improvements. Does struggle to repeat his delivery as he works deeper into games.

Fastball: 92-94 mph. Tops out at 98 mph. In college, he worked almost exclusively off a two-seam fastball regarded as among the best in the 2017 draft. In 2018, the organization attempted to work with Houck to instead rely primarily on a four-seam fastball, based in part on Trackman data, but he struggled in the first half of the year and returned midseason to primarily throwing the two-seam while mixing in the four-seam more often. Two-seam shows arm-side run and heavy sink down in the zone. Four-seam is routinely in the 95-97 mph range, but the pitch is straight and gets hit hard when in the zone. Below-average fastball command profile. Potential above-average pitch. May add a cutter eventually.

Slider: 84-86 mph. Has returned to throwing the sweepy, frisbee-like 10-to-4 slider he used in college and after being drafted. Tried out a spike curveball grip during the first half of the 2018 season, but because of his arm angle, the pitch wasn't a good fit. Has shown great confidence in his slider, willing to throw it to both right- and left-handed hitters. Can locate in and out of the zone. Has bat-missing potential. Pitch is very tough on right-handed hitters. Potential plus offering.

Splitter: Started throwing a splitter in 2020. Pitch shows late, downward action and has missed bats when he buries it down in the zone, although it has yet to be tested in true game action. Has shown the ability to pull the string on it, but is still inconsistent with his feel for the pitch. Development of the pitch as an option to get out left-handed hitters will be key to him reaching his ceiling.

Changeup: 86-88 mph. Scrapped the pitch in favor of the splitter in 2020. Pitch was very inconsistent and he tinkered with the grip as a professional. Switched to using a circle grip in 2019. Pitch flashed drop and deceptive arm speed, but he had trouble turning the pitch over and it often it was firm and straight. Was a potential fringe-average offering with significant refinement.

Career Notes: Drafted by Toronto out of high school but did not sign. Pitched for Team USA collegiate national team in 2015 and 2016. After signing, inspired by his adopted sister (as well as his father and stepfather, who were both adopted), created Tanner Houck’s Pitch for Adoption, an organization through which he donates money to charitable causes for each strikeout. The Red Sox development plan after drafting Houck included an overhaul of his arsenal and mechanics in an effort to increase his chances of staying in the rotation. Experimented with primarily throwing a four-seam fastball in early 2018 that he now will mix in with the two-seam and has changed grips on his breaking ball and changeup. Missed last few weeks of 2018 season with chest/back/spine/ribcage inflammation. Participated in 2018 Fall Instructional League. Moved to the bullpen in July 2019 shortly before promotion to Triple-A, and appeared primed for a potential MLB call-up down the stretch if Boston had remained in the playoff race. Moved back into the rotation in the Arizona Fall League and has continued to pitch as a starter since. Pitched for Team USA in the 2019 Premier12 Tournament.

Summation: Potential late-inning reliever, with a chance to develop into a back-end starter if his splitter develops to complement his slider and he refines his fastball command. Could also succeed in a multi-inning relief role. Will likely struggle to turn over a lineup of major league-quality hitters with his current pitch mix and mechanics. Arm slot and fastball-slider combination make him extremely difficult on right-handers, but his low arm slot and lack of a third pitch give him trouble against lefties. Splitter is a new addition to his arsenal, but it has shown potential against left-handed hitters, which will be vital to chances stick in the starting rotation. Has the size and demeanor you look for in a pitcher; able to bear down when necessary.


CJ Chatham, shortstop

Physical Description: Lean frame. Taller than a typical middle infielder. Long limbs, high waist. Average lower body, still could look to add strength. Looks listed height and weight.

Hit: Starts in a square stance. Used to stand vertical, but incorporated more of a crouch as he reached the upper levels of the minors, perhaps to attempt to create more upward plane. Has lowered hand position to his chest. Level swing with loose hands. Good separation in swing. Has consistently hit for high averages throughout his minor league career. Fringe-average bat speed. Inconsistent swing path. Long limbs, can struggle to stay inside the ball at times. Has some trouble with spin. Approach is on the aggressive side; likes to put the ball in play and attack early in the count. Doesn't walk much. Potential fringe-average hit tool.

Power: Will show below-average raw power in batting practice, but it doesn't carry over into games, where he utilizes a line drive approach. Projects to have well below-average game power, capable of hitting 5-10 home runs a year with 15-plus doubles at his peak if given a full season of at-bats. Power is mostly to the pull side.

Run: Fringe-average speed. Runs stiff. Not a threat to steal bases, but can go first to third on a single once he gets moving.

Field: Solid instincts and feel for shortstop. Quick first step and long strides allow him to cover ground quickly to both sides and when charging the ball. Solid footwork and average hands. Smooth fielder. Projects as a solid-average-to-better defender and should be able to stick at shortstop long-term. Began getting occasional time at second base in mid-2019 to expand his versatility, and got most of his playing time in the Arizona Fall League at second in addition to emergency starts at third base and left field out of necessity.

Arm: Above-average arm. Able to make all the throws from shortstop when healthy. Has had recurring injury issues with his right shoulder that have at times robbed him of sufficient arm strength for the position.

Career Notes: Played travel baseball in high school with fellow Red Sox draftees Nick Longhi and Shaun Anderson. Reached 96 mph as his high school team’s closer, garnering the interest of MLB clubs, including the Red Sox. Initially committed to Florida Atlantic as a left fielder, but played third base as a freshman before moving to shortstop. Missed about a month after signing when a post-draft physical revealed he had broken his thumb during the NCAA Regionals. Attended 2016 and 2018 Fall Instructional League. Missed almost the entire 2017 season due to a hamstring injury suffered late in spring training that recurred multiple times during comeback attempts, including once in his first game after being activated. Missed the start of the 2018 season with a hamstring injury. Received non-roster invitation to major league spring training in 2019. Has also dealt with recurring right shoulder issues, including in spring training 2020. Led Eastern League in batting average in 2019.

Summation: Projects as an up-and-down player. Ceiling of an end-of-the-bench player carried by his defense and positional versatility. Doesn’t have much of a ceiling, development has somewhat stagnated in the high minors. Won't stand out in any particular category, but won't hurt a team either if called upon to fill a major league role. Type of player where the sum of the parts make the player. Not flashy, but is a consistent, professional performer.

Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor

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