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Minor league notebook

With Tanner Houck back from injury and in Worcester, Red Sox are closer to the pitching depth they need

Tanner Houck has started two games for the Red Sox this year, but has been sidelined by a flexor strain.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

When Red Sox righthander Ryan Weber was left in Sunday’s game for a 5⅔-inning Blue Jays shellacking that included 13 hits, 11 runs, and 4 homers, it was an example of the team’s lack of organizational pitching depth.

The Red Sox are without minor leaguers Tanner Houck (flexor strain), Connor Seabold (elbow inflammation), and Eduard Bazardo (right lat strain), which has proven to be the Sox’ biggest blow of the season.

Houck, however, is a step closer. Manager Alex Cora said Tuesday that the 24-year-old righthander will start Thursday for Worcester. The tentative plan is for Houck to toss two innings.

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Depth aside, Houck remains one of the bright spots in the organization. It was just last year that Houck allowed one run in his first three big league starts (17 innings).

Houck pitched in three games (two starts) with the big league club this year to the tune of a 4.35 ERA. The Red Sox’ expectations were put on pause. Houck, according to Worcester pitching coach Paul Abbott, figured out a way to keep things in perspective.

“He’s a special kid and his attitude has been tremendous,” Abbott said Tuesday. “He’s just rolled with it. There’s nothing he can do except get better and get stronger. He knows there’s plenty of time left to have a good season. He’s using this time to grow, get prepared, and hit the ground running when he does get back.”

Tanner Houck could be back with the big club sooner rather than later.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Houck works off a fastball-slider mix. But has since implemented a splitter, a pitch he continues to hone.

“He’s expecting that pitch to really increase in usage and execution,” Abbott said. “So that’s one thing with him coming back, is picking up where he left off and being the guy he was last year.”

In draft mode

Plenty of eyes will be on the Red Sox during this year’s draft. The Sox will pick at No. 4, No. 39 (second round), and No. 74 (third round), so the team will have some tough decisions to make.

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In the wake of COVID-19, Red Sox scouts have been able to return to some sense of normalcy. Scouts have been on the road since February, getting a large enough sample size on players in comparison to an unprecedented 2020.

The Cape Cod League begins its summer league season Sunday and draft-eligible players will be there, too.

The draft will be held in conjunction with MLB All-Star festivities July 11-13, meaning teams have an extra month to prepare.

“We’ll take all the at-bats and all the innings we can,” said Sox director of amateur scouting Paul Toboni, noting the team has struggled to gather data because of the COVID-19 shutdown last year.

“I think there is such a thing as what we’d call prospect fatigue, right? Like, you’ve seen a kid for so long, that you start picking holes in the player, instead of just taking a step back and saying, ‘Wait a second, this [No. 4 pick] gets, you know, one of the best players in the class, and we’ve seen him for a long time.’”

Such prospect fatigue could be made with Vanderbilt righthanders Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. Sox fans have grown increasingly intrigued by Leiter after Baseball America’s recent mock draft had Leiter going to the Sox at No. 4. Rocker, meanwhile, was at No. 7 to the Royals.

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Yet mock drafts aren’t necessarily a true indication of what teams are thinking, according to a league source. In fact, the likelihood of Leiter getting to the Red Sox at No. 4 is still low. Nevertheless, the Sox have, like everyone else, see the amount of talent both Rocker and Leiter possess.

“I think we pick up on the same things that other teams pick up on,” Toboni said of Leiter. “He’s been a great performer this year. Seems like a great kid, a great competitor.”

The Red Sox will have their eyes on the Cape and other summer amateur leagues. After a lost 2020, they will take as much as they can get — even if it doesn’t amount to much.

“I don’t think it’s a huge deal,” Toboni intimated. “But there are a couple of one-off cases where we will be able to round out our process a little bit better.”

Frates fund-raiser July 16

Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs, will be the host of a fund-raiser to benefit the Peter Frates Family Foundation on July 16 from 5-10 p.m. There will be a meet-and-greet autograph appearance by former Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen.

Frates, a former Boston College baseball player, was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and died in December 2019. He helped to raise millions of dollars toward the disease and helped spearhead the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.