Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck is grinding in Florida. Not at the Sox’ spring training facility in Fort Myers, but instead the 24-year-old is about three hours east in Jupiter, putting in work with renowned baseball trainer Eric Cressey at Cressey Sports Performance. While there, Houck’s been reminded of what greatness looks like. He’s seen both Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber. He hasn’t had much communication with either of them, but their presence alone means something to Houck.
“Just surrounding yourself with elite competition, I think, elevates anyone’s game,” Houck said in a phone conversation recently. “So that’s ultimately what I want to surround myself with.”
In his first taste of the majors, Houck made a memorable impression in an otherwise forgettable 2020 Red Sox season. The righthander compiled a 0.53 ERA in three starts, fanning 21 batters in 17 innings. All three of his starts came against playoff teams: the Miami Marlins, New York Yankees, and Atlanta Braves. The Red Sox won all three.
Despite the success, Houck understands that he must prove himself again. A three-game sample, while encouraging, isn’t large enough. Houck is aware of that, which is the reason why he’s taken the initiative to hone his craft at Cressey’s facility surrounded by other athletes with his same mind-set.
“After being in big league campus last spring training and just being around that group and not having any experience of big league camp — or just any big league experience at all — at that time, I was like I need more of this. I need more information,” Houck said.
Outside of the Sox organization, Houck flew under the radar. He was ranked the Sox’ 10th-best prospect, according to MLB 2020 prospect rankings. He was left off its Top 100 list, too. Pitching prospects such as the Yankees’ Deivi Garcia — who Houck outperformed in his second start — received much of the hype. Still, that didn’t have any impact on how Houck went about his business.
“I’ve just kind of done my own thing,” Houck said. “I’ve never been one to shake up the spotlight, I’ve never been one to, you know, when I accept all the glory, I know that there’s a lot more that goes into it other than just me.
“I don’t need the spotlight, I don’t need the fame, the recognition, I just want to go out there and do my thing and just play the game the way it should be played, which is [with] the hard-nosed mentality and just go out there and have fun.”
Houck had a poise about him last season that’s rare for a rookie. He said it’s something that he’s always embraced. He trusts the work that he puts in, which leads to his unwavering confidence.
“I embrace those moments. I know, I put in the work to be in those moments,” Houck said.
Houck still will have some questions to answer next year. Command can still somewhat get the best of him. He walked three batters in each of his starts. During the 2019 season, Houck walked 5.04 batters per nine innings at Triple A Pawtucket and 3.48 batters per nine innings at Double A Portland.
While Houck turned heads it might not be enough to earn him an Opening Day roster spot. But don’t expect that to knock Houck off his game. He’s keeping the same mentality that helped get him here.
”I’m going to go in and work and truly put myself in the best situation, going into spring training to fight for a spot,” he said. “And I mean, I have no real expectations for myself, other than just kind of going out there and doing what I know that I can do and just being me.”