At one of his favorite establishments in his hometown of Collinsville, Ill., Tanner Houck watched his professional baseball career take shape. If all goes according to plan, it will take him to Fenway Park.
It all played out like a dream at the Fifth Quarter, a cozy bar in downtown Collinsville, where Houck and his closest companions – his mom, his step-father, friends, ex-coaches and various family members – watched the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft unfold Monday night.
Around 8:30 p.m., Houck got a call from the Boston Red Sox. Moments later, they selected the right-handed Missouri pitcher with the 24th pick, making him the fourth-highest draft pick in Tigers history.
According to MLB.com, the 24th pick comes with an assigned value of $2.6 million.
“It was just kind of a surreal feeling,” Houck said in a phone interview from the Fifth Quarter. “I worked my entire life to get to this moment.”
After getting the call, he didn’t make his watch party wait for the news to come through on the big screen.
“I told everyone right away,” he said. “I ran over and gave my mom and stepdad a huge hug for everything they’ve ever done for me.”
It wasn’t Houck’s first draft experience. He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 12th round of the 2014 MLB Draft but elected to go to Missouri instead.
“Coming out of high school, I knew – or at least thought – that I was a lot better than the 12th round,” he said. “That’s the main reason I went to the University of Missouri, to have a moment like this, to continue to better myself and get some experience under my belt. I ended up becoming a first-round pick.”
Houck recorded a 3.26 ERA in three seasons with the Tigers, amassing an 18-17 record in 44 starts. He’ll leave the program ranked fourth in strikeouts (292), and he’s only the second Tiger to throw 300 innings in three years. He finished with 300 2/3.
He was a consensus Freshman All-American and made the Southeastern Conference’s all-freshman team in 2015. He followed that up with a stellar sophomore season that earned him all-region honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association.
Multiple outlets, including Perfect Game and Baseball America, rated Houck as the best pro prospect in college baseball entering his junior season, but he did not match that lofty expectation in 2017. Houck led the Southeastern Conference in hit batters (18) and allowed four or more runs in four of his 14 starts. The Tigers’ shaky defense did him no favors, either, as 10 unearned runs contributed to a 5-7 record that matched the league-high in losses.
In his last game in a Missouri uniform, Houck gave up six hits and seven runs (six earned) in 4 1/3 innings against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament, though the Tigers won 12-7.
At other times, Houck was dominant. He did not yield an earned run in four of his starts and hurled a three-hit, three-run complete game against South Carolina in his last start at Taylor Stadium, a 5-3 Missouri victory May 13. Houck’s .220 opposing average was 15th in the SEC, and his 95 strikeouts were 12th.
He finished with a 3.33 ERA, which was fourth on the team among players with at least three starts.
“Junior season was up and down, not the performance I would like to have,” he said. “But, you know, it all worked out in the end. I can’t really go back and change the past now, I can only continue to move forward.”
The scouting report on Houck includes a fastball with significant movement that sits at 92-96 mph and tops out at 98 mph. He also throws a low-80s slider and a changeup.
The Red Sox farm system is currently in transition after Boston unloaded a number of top prospects in an offseason trade for Chris Sale. The organization features strong arms in Jason Groome, last year’s first-round pick; Roniel Raudes, a right-hander from Nicaragua; and Brian Johnson, a first-round pick from 2012.
Houck is the fourth Missouri Tiger to be selected in the first round of the June amateur draft. All have been pitchers in the last 11 years. Max Scherzer was taken 11th by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2006, Aaron Crow was picked ninth by the Washington Nationals in 2008 (and later signed with the Kansas City Royals after being picked 12th in 2009) and Kyle Gibson was the 22nd pick by the Minnesota Twins in 2009.
Missouri has also had three first-round picks in the secondary draft: Rick Henninger (1968), Michael McFarland (1968) and Steve Patchin (1971).
Houck was one of seven SEC players to be taken in the first round. Five of those were pitchers.