Boston’s first-rounder last year, Houck started his first full pro season with High A Salem. He has flashed the dominant strikeout ability that has long made him a prospect, while also showing that his control has a ways to go if he is to remain a starting pitcher down the road.
The moving parts in Houck’s unconventional delivery make it tough for him to throw strikes, but he also has a ton of deception. Hitters don’t see the ball until very late, as his closed landing and slingy three-quarters slot are only aided by the extension his 6’5’’ frame adds to his pitches. The fastball sits at 93-to-94 throughout starts, touching 95-to-96 mph even as his pitch count rises. It’s a heavy ball with natural running life from his low release point, though he relies on his velocity to overpower hitters without much in-zone command. Houck sprays the zone with minimal ability to pitch to spots; he has walked three or more hitters in five of his first seven starts, a total of 22 free passes through his first 30 innings. His slider is a real separator, flashing nasty wipeout action at best and overwhelming A-Ball hitters when he’s up in the count. Thrown in the 82-to-86 mph range, it has hybrid tilt that’s somewhere between a curve and true slider. When he can keep his hand on top of the ball, it’s a hammer pitch that looks like a future 60-grade offering. A high-80s changeup is his third pitch and is behind the FB/SL combo. He often yanks it across his body because of the crossfire action in his delivery, getting unintentional cut action on a straight changeup that lacks separation from the fastball.
Houck will get every chance to start, though something will really have to click in the control and pitch-efficiency department for him to reach his ceiling in the rotation. I loved his competitive fire and edge on the mound and felt it was well suited for the bullpen. The unconventional delivery and power two-pitch mix make him a candidate to close if he takes to the spotlight of the 9th-inning role.