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Red Sox pick P Tanner Houck with 1st-round draft selection

June 13, 2017

Four months ago, when the college season was getting started, Tanner Houck sat in a burger joint just off the University of Missouri campus and explained his approach on the mound.

“I’m going to be who I am,” Houck told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “No matter what the scouting report says, if it says they’re a good fastball hitter, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not going to shy away.”

As of now, the Red Sox are banking on that fastball and that competitiveness. With last night’s 24th pick in Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft, the Red Sox selected Houck, the first time since Matt Barnes in 2011 that the organization went with a college pitcher for its first selection.

“For starters, he’s very athletic,” Sox vice president of amateur scouting Mike Rikard said. “He’s got good deception in his delivery. He’s got a really good, hard sinking fastball that he can run up to 97 mph. He throws strikes. He doesn’t walk guys. He really competes on the mound. Just does a lot of things we really look for in a college pitcher.”

Listed at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Houck’s a big, strong right-hander with the velocity you’d expect of a first-round college pick. But his windup is a bit unusual, coming across his body with a low, three-quarters delivery.

“It’s anything but direct to the plate,” Baseball America wrote in its scouting report, “but that also helps make him deadly against right-handed hitters. They struggle to pick the ball up out of his hand and his 90-94 mph heater has outstanding sink. It’s a plus pitch and some scouts give it a 70 grade thanks to its movement.”

On the scouting scale, 80 is the highest grade, so a 70 is elite. MLB Pipeline pegged Houck as having one of the best fastballs in the draft class. Baseball America listed him as the 22nd-best prospect available, while MLB Pipeline ranked him 20th, MinorLeagueBall had him 25th and Scout.com had him 24th — basically in line with the Sox’ draft position.

Houck grew up outside St. Louis and has said he admired the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright, but he’s since come to admire fellow Mizzou Tiger Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals and sees something familiar in Red Sox ace Chris Sale.

“He’s a low arm-slot kind of guy,” Houck said of Sale. “Throws across his body kind of like I do.”

Houck and Rikard each acknowledged a need for the offspeed pitches to improve. Rikard said there’s no desire to focus on the fastball and try to fast track Houck as a reliever.

“We envision him in as a starter,” Rikard said. “And we have a bunch of scouts on our staff who have tremendous conviction that he’s going to end up as a starter.”

Houck is expected to leave college a year early to sign.

“I’m honored to be a Boston Red Sock,” Houck said. “And excited to get started.”

The Sox went the high-school route with their second-round pick, taking center fielder Cole Brannen at No.?63 overall. Scouting reports note the Westfield (Ga.) School product’s ability to make contact as a left-handed hitter, with speed as his primary tool. Baseball America ranked him 54th in this class, while MLB Pipeline had him 68th.

“He’s going to stay in center field,” Rikard said. “We like a lot of things about his approach and swing. .?.?. He’s really a five-tool player.”

Baseball America’s scouting report on Brannen notes that he’s committed to Georgia Southern but still is expected to sign professionally.

The MLB draft continues through tomorrow.