It’s a debut three years in the making.
When the Red Sox take on the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, getting the ball for Boston will be 24-year-old righty Tanner Houck, a 2017 first-round pick making his big league debut.
As far as pitchers go, Houck has moved relatively quickly through the team’s minor league system — and as a first-round pick, the hope is that he can become a useful MLB starter.
We’ll get the first glimpse into that possibility Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. ET. Until then, here are a few things to know about Houck.
He’s undergone some pitch mix changes
When the Red Sox drafted Houck out of Missouri, he still was pretty raw. A largely two-pitch pitcher who occasionally threw a changeup, the Red Sox appeared to relish the opportunity to mold him, which has led to some changes over time.
The big talk this year has been the splitter he developed. He ditched the changeup, and now boasts a splitter that has been drawing rave reviews from the alternate training site.
In order to hack it as a major league starter, guys need at least three pitches they can throw comfortably. Houck now has that with his fastball, slider and splitter.
“He’s gotten so much better with command, with execution, with development of a third pitch, which was crucial for him,” Paul Abbott, the Triple-A Pawtucket pitching coach, said Monday on a call over Zoom. “There was never a doubt or a question about his talent or ability. It was just a matter of getting a big league pitch mix. He’s got it now.”
According to Sox Prospects, his fastball sits between 92 and 94 mph, but tops out at 98.
As for the slider, well it can be pretty nasty, especially to righties.
He has fared much better against righties than lefties
What ultimately could prevent Houck from becoming a major league starter is his struggles against left-handed hitters. The difference in success during his career based on who he is facing is so staggering that it’s easy to see why he could one day top out as a specialist out of the bullpen.
That’s because although he held righties to a .227 batting average through the 2019 season, lefties were hitting .283 off him. As a result, emphasis at the alternate training site has been placed on getting Houck more comfortable against left-handers.
He’s sure to get some action against lefties in Tuesday’s game, as the Marlins usually have three or four left-handers in their lineup on a given night.
His windup is a little noisy
Don’t be alarmed if you’re watching Houck for the first time Tuesday and find yourself thinking “Jeez, it looks like that kid is working really hard out there.”
Houck long has had a windup that features a high leg kick and a lengthy extension on the follow-through.
While some pitching coaches try to steer pitchers, especially young ones, away from particularly emphatic windups, that hasn’t been the case with Houck.
He also pitches from a lower arm slot, so you might see some similarities between Houck’s delivery and Chris Sale’s.
Thumbnail photo via Portland Sea Dogs Instagram/@portland_seadogs