Houck is a potential candidate for Boston's starting rotation after the team traded David Price to the Dodgers on Tuesday, Christopher Smith of MassLive.com reports.
The loss of Price leaves a major hole in the rotation, and Houck is one of several possible candidates entering spring training. The 23-year-old right-hander has overhauled his mechanics and added to his pitch mix since being drafted 24th overall out of Missouri in 2017. He recorded a 3.65 ERA in his 15 starts for Double-A Portland last year. He then pitched well in relief (2.05 ERA, 22 innings) at Triple-A Pawtucket. The team views him as a starter, and Houck will return to that role in 2020. Other potential candidates include Brusdar Graterol, who was acquired in the Price/Mookie Betts trade, Darwinzon Hernandez, Kyle Hart, Mike Shawaryn, Ryan Weber and Hector Velazquez. There are also a handful of free-agent starters still available on the market.
Houck was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday, Christopher Smith of MassLive.com reports.
Houck threw 82.2 innings for Double-A Portland, recording a decent 4.25 ERA, a number which could have been lower if not for a .346 BABIP. His 22.1 percent strikeout rate and a 8.8 percent walk rate are each fine but not particularly impressive. He has the potential to be a back-end starter long-term, but he'll pitch out of the bullpen for now at Pawtucket.
Houck had his pitch mix adjusted midseason in 2018 and had better results following the change, Christopher Smith of MassLive.com reports.
Houck, 22, came out of Missouri with a two-seam fastball-slider mix, but the Red Sox had him focus on throwing four-seamers to start 2018. Things didn't go so well -- he had a 6.16 ERA and 1.91 WHIP over his first 11 starts -- and the right-hander returned to throwing the two-seamer as his main pitch. That led to a 2.86 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over his final 12 starts at High-A Salem. It looks like the organization found the right pitch mix for Houck. "He went back to primarily a two-seam fastball with the knuckle-curve, elevating the four-seamer, sinking the changeup. And I think for now, that's a really good mix for him with everything we've seen from him and as he continues his journey through the minor leagues," vice president of pitching development Brian Bannister told Smith.
Houck posted a 3.63 ERA over 22.1 innings in 10 starts for short-season Lowell. He struck out 25 and walked eight.
Houck was Boston's first-round draft pick (24th overall) in 2017 and, along with 2016 first-rounder Jay Groome, represents the organization's best hope to develop a starter. The Red Sox have drafted and developed just one pitcher that eventually made it to their big-league rotation, the dearly departed Clay Buchholz. Houck is a 6-foot-5 right-hander with long arms and an aggressive delivery that starts on the first base side of the rubber before stepping toward the third base dugout and throwing across his body. It's probably not how you'd teach someone to pitch, but Houck's comfortable with it and, more importantly, can repeat it. The team's pitching development analyst, David Bush, told Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald that the University of Missouri product's goal is to harness his mechanics and keep himself under control. He's expected to start the season at Low-A Greenville.