Last Monday night, the Boston Red Sox selected Tanner Houck with the 24th pick of the 2017 First Year Player Draft. The right-hander out of the University of Missouri is only the ninth college twirler the Red Sox have selected with their first round pick since the Draft began in 1965. The story of the eight previous picks may give us the range of possibilities of what to expect from Houck in the future.
Roger Clemens (1983, 19th Pick)
When the Red Sox finally picked a college pitcher in the first round, they got it right in a way no one could have imagined. Roger Clemens would become an all-time great after being selected out of the University of Texas with the 19th pick of the 1983 draft. However, Clemens was not the first college pitcher drafted in 1983. Stan Hilton, a right-handed pitcher out of Baylor, was the fifth pick of the draft by the Oakland Athletics. Stan would never make it above AAA in six minor league seasons. Four other college arms were drafted prior to Clemens as well: Darrel Akerfelds, Ray Hayward, Rick Stoll, and Eric Sonberg.
Clemens debuted for the Boston Red Sox in May of 1984 – less than a year after being drafted – and quickly became one of the best pitchers in the game. In his third MLB season, Clemens led Boston to the AL Pennant while winning the first of his seven Cy Young Awards. In his 13 seasons with the Red Sox, Roger compiled a 192-111 record with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.158 WHIP, while tossing 100 complete games, including 38 shutouts.
Clemens would go on to star for the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros over his final 11 seasons, winning his record seventh Cy Young at the age of 41 with the Astros in 2004 and finishing his career with a second stint with the Bronx Bombers in 2007 at the age of 44. Overall, the Rocket finished his career with a 354-184 record with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.173 WHIP.
Tom Fischer (1988, 12th Pick)
Five years after Clemens, the Red Sox dipped back into the college pool, selecting southpaw Tom Fischer with the 12th pick of the 1988 draft. The Wisconsin Badger tossed six seasons for the Red Sox organization, but was never able to break through to the majors.
Fischer started his professional career well enough, producing a 7-4 record with a 3.52 ERA with High-A Lynchburg in his debut season. It would proveto be Tom’s best season, however. After four seasons starting for Lynchburg, New Britain, and Pawtucket, Fischer was shifted to the bullpen in 1992, where he proceeded to put up a putrid 6.27 ERA over 36 games for the PawSox. Demoted back to New Britain for the 1993 season, the portsider produced even worse results, with a 12.46 ERA in 16 games before the sun set on his Red Sox career. Overall, Fischer went 41-42 with a 4.78 ERA and a 1.504 WHIP in his six seasons in the minors.
Aaron Sele (1991, 23rd Pick)
For the third time in eight seasons, the Red Sox went into the college pitching well and selected right-hander Aaron Sele from Washington State University in 1991. Sele rocketed through the Red Sox system, going 26-14 in his two-season minor league apprenticeship before debuting with Boston in late June of 1993. In his 18 starts for the Red Sox that season, Sele put up a record of 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA, earning him third place in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
Sele continued to be a consistent starter in 1994 for the Sox, with an 8-7 record and a 3.83 ERA in 22 starts and started off well in 1995, going 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA before an injury derailed his season. Sele would never be the same for Boston after his lost 1995 season, going 20-23 in his final two seasons for the Red Sox with an ERA well above 5.
Sele would bounce around the majors for another decade, however, picking up 37 wins in two seasons for Texas – where he placed fifth in Cy Young balloting in 1999 with an 18-9 record despite a 4.79 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. He added 38 wins for Seattle over two stints – including his best single season of 2001, where he went 15-5 with a 3.60 ERA. Sele contributed 24 wins for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over three seasons, and 11 wins in his final two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets – with his final season being exclusively out of the bullpen.
Sele finished his 15-season MLB career with 148 well-traveled wins.
Craig Hansen (2005, 26th Pick)
The Red Sox went 14 years between picking a college pitcher in the first round, and the 2005 pick of Craig Hansen – a relief pitcher out of St. John’s University – did not end well for either side.
Hansen had a 12 ⅓ inning apprenticeship with the GCL Red Sox and AA Portland Sea Dogs before being called up to the Red Sox in September 2005, where he proceeded to strike out two of the three Tampa Bay Rays he faced in his first MLB appearance. The righty would pitch two more innings over three appearances at the end of the year, giving up two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out one.
Hansen started his 2006 season with Portland for five games before a promotion to AAA Pawtucket for 14 games. Despite a 2-2 record over his 19 games, he was deemed ready for his second trip to Boston. Over 38 relief appearances in his second stint, Hansen put up a 6.63 ERA and a 1.605 WHIP, walking 15 batters while striking out 30 in 38 innings. Hansen would spend all of 2007 with the PawSox – putting up a 3-1 record with a 3.86 ERA despite an awful WHIP of 1.753. The Red Sox placed Craig on the PawSox shuttle in 2008, but his time in Pawtucket (1.62 ERA in 11 games) was far better than his time in Boston (5.58 ERA in 32 appearances). Hansen was part of the three-way trade that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles at the 2008 deadline, with Hansen and Brandon Moss being sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hansen had little success there, putting up a 6.95 ERA over 21 major league appearances with the Pirates. Hansen was released by the Pirates during 2011 spring training. The New York Mets signed him for one more chance in July 2012, but Hansen was unable to rise above the South Atlantic League.
In his four seasons in the majors, Hansen put up a record of 4-9 with a 6.34 ERA and a 1.719 WHIP.
Daniel Bard (2006, 28th Pick)
Daniel Bard’s first professional season after being drafted out of North Carolina was a disaster. Placed in the High-A California League to begin his career in 2007, Bard gave up 21 hits and 22 walks in just 13 ⅓ innings over five starts before being shut down. He would eventually move down the ladder to the Greenville Drive, tossing 17 starts with a 6.42 ERA and a 1.800 WHIP. In his 22 starts, the right-hander gave up 76 hits, 78 walks, and 72 runs while striking out only 42 in 75 innings.
The Red Sox decided to see how Bard would do in the bullpen during the Hawaiian Winter League that postseason, and Bard showed promise, surrendering only two runs in 16 ⅔ innings. Returning to the Drive in 2008, Bard busted out, allowing only two runs in 15 relief appearances before being promoted to AA Portland, where he continued to shine, putting up a 1.99 ERA over 31 appearances. Overall, Bard put up a 1.51 ERA and a 0.927 WHIP over 77 ⅔ relief innings. Bard was placed with the AAA PawSox to begin 2009 and was quickly promoted to Boston after 11 relief appearances, allowing just two runs.
Bard continued his success in Boston, putting up a 3.65 ERA in 49 relief appearances in 2009. Bard was brilliant in 2010, with a 1.93 ERA in 74 ⅔ relief innings with a 1.004 WHIP. His 2011 season was more of the same, with 31 holds and a 2.03 ERA through 59 appearances through August. And then, things started to unravel. In 11 appearances in September, Bard yielded 14 runs (one fewer than the rest of the year) and nine of his 24 walks for the season, increasing his ERA by 1.30 to 3.33 for the year.
Bard was placed back into a starting role in 2012 with the results being poor. A change back to relief was not effective either. In 17 games for Boston, Bard produced a 6.22 ERA and a 1.736 WHIP. In Pawtucket over 31 appearances, Bard had a 7.03 ERA and a 1.875 WHIP. In a combined 91 ⅓ innings, Bard surrendered 72 walks while striking out only 70. He would toss one more inning over two games for Boston in 2013, his last appearance in the majors. He has continued to bounce around the minor leagues – currently with the New York Mets organization – as he attempts to regain the dominant form he showed in 2010.
Anthony Ranaudo (2010, 39th)
The 6’7” right-hander out of Louisiana State University fell down draft boards into the supplemental round in 2010 due to various injuries during his final season in the SEC. Drafted with the 39th pick of the 2010 draft, the Red Sox – perhaps learning some lessons from Daniel Bard – started Ranaudo with Greenville in the South Atlantic League in 2011, where he went 4-1 with a 3.33 ERA in ten games before being bumped to High-A Salem, where he went 5-5 with a 4.33 ERA over 16 starts.
Ranaudo was bumped one more level to AA Portland in 2012, where he only pitched in nine games due to injury, putting up a 6.69 ERA and 1.805 WHIP. Anthony was no worse for wear after the layoff, however, as he took off in 2013. First with Portland, he went 8-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 19 starts before getting moved to AAA Pawtucket, where he continued to have success with a 3-1 record and a 2.97 ERA over six games. In 2014, Ranaudo readied himself for the majors, going 14-4 with a 2.61 ERA with the PawSox before being called up to make his major league debut on August 1st. Ranaudo pitched six strong innings against the New York Yankees, earning his first major league win. He would pitch six more games for the Red Sox down the stretch, going 4-3 with a 4.81 ERA over 39 ⅓ innings in his first MLB season.
Despite his promise, Boston traded him during the offseason to the Texas Rangers for reliever Robbie Ross. Ranaudo split his 2015 season between AAA Round Rock – going 7-6 with a 4.58 ERA – and the Rangers – where he put up a 7.63 ERA in his 15 ⅓ innings. In 2016, Ranaudo again split time between MLB and AAA. First with Round Rock and Texas, and then, after being traded to the Chicago White Sox for Matt Ball, he split his time between the MLB club and AAA Charlotte. While he was not as good as he was with the PawSox in 2014, Ranaudo managed to go 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA and a 1.027 ERA over his 19 AAA games. But, The Bigs continued to bedevil Anthony. In nine MLB games, Ranaudo put up a 9.48 ERA and a 1.787 WHIP and, for the second time in three major league seasons, walking more than he struck out. He was released at the end of the 2016 season, and is currently in the Korean Baseball Organization, playing with the Samsung Lions.
Matt Barnes (2011, 19th pick)
The 6’4” right-hander was drafted with the 19th pick of the 2011 draft as a starter out of the University of Connecticut, and Boston started him on the same path as Ranaudo the season prior. Beginning his professional career in 2012, Barnes started 20 games for the Greenville Drive – going 5-5 with a 3.58 ERA – before receiving a late-season promotion to High-A Salem. Barnes dominated the Carolina League over his five starts, allowing a single run in 26 ⅔ innings, walking only four while whiffing 42. He was sent to AA Portland to begin 2013, where he struggled to a 5-10 record and a 4.33 ERA over 24 starts. However, he still mowed down hitters with the strikeout, recording 142 over 113 ⅓ innings.
The Red Sox moved Barnes up to AAA Pawtucket for the 2014 season, and Barnes responded by going 8-9 over 23 games, with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.292 WHIP; both improvements from his 2013 season with the Sea Dogs. He was rewarded with a September callup, where he saw the first extensive bullpen action of his pro career, allowing four runs over nine innings in five relief appearance.
The 2015 season saw Barnes in Pawtucket as a starter, but after a one-game call-up by Boston in late April, he was given one more start in Pawtucket and then one late-inning relief call. He was called back up by Boston in mid-May and saw action in 20 games out of the pen over the next two months. He was returned to Pawtucket in mid-July, and the Red Sox reconverted him back to a starter. Returning to Boston in August, Barnes made his only two MLB starts of his career, yielding 11 runs in 10 ⅓ innings to Cleveland and Kansas City. Barnes was again demoted to AAA Pawtucket, and when he returned in mid-September, it was again as a reliever. Matt had his best stretch of the season for Boston during the final days of the season, allowing a single run in his nine relief appearances totaling 10 ⅓ innings.
Barnes was a fixture in the 2016 Boston bullpen, throwing 66 ⅔ innings over 62 appearances, putting up an ERA of 4.05 and a WHIP of 1.395 while whiffing 71. Matt has pitched even better in 2017, with a 3.41 ERA and a 1.263 WHIP in his first 32 games.
Brian Johnson (2012, 31st pick)
For the third consecutive season, the Red Sox selected a college pitcher in the first round in 2012, picking southpaw Brian Johnson out of the University of Florida. Unlike Barnes and Ranaudo, Johnson began his professional career the season he was drafted, seeing four short starts – totalling 5 ⅔ innings – for the short-season Lowell Spinners. Johnson began his professional career in earnest with 15 starts for the Greenville Drive in 2013, being collared with a poor 1-6 record despite a 2.87 ERA and a 1.130 WHIP. Johnson ended the season with two games for Salem, allowing two runs in 11 innings.
Johnson would begin the 2014 season in Salem, earning a promotion to AA Portland after only five starts. Johnson caught fire with the Sea Dogs, going 10-2 with a 1.75 ERA and a 0.932 WHIP in 20 starts. Johnson would continue to excel in 2015 where he began the season with the AAA PawSox. Johnson would pick up eight wins in his first 16 starts for the Pawsox, before getting the call to Boston. In his one start, he allowed four runs over 4 ⅓ innings. He was sent back to Pawtucket, and after two more starts, the Red Sox ended his season due to forearm soreness.
In the offseason, Johnson was a victim of a carjacking near his home in Florida. The portsider started seven early season games for the PawSox in 2016, starting off relatively well enough with five earned runs allowed in his first four starts, but falling apart in the final three, giving up 13 runs in 13 innings. Johnson was then given a leave from the team to battle anxiety. Johnson would come back in July with four rehab starts in the GCL and Lowell, before finishing the season with eight more starts for Pawtucket. Despite his struggles, Johnson put up a 4.09 ERA over 77 innings in AAA.
Johnson re-established himself as a potential big league starter in 2017, putting up a 2.72 ERA in eight starts for Pawtucket. He has also seen four starts for Boston, with a brilliant complete game shutout of the Seattle Mariners highlighting the season. Unfortunately, bad luck continues to follow Johnson. He was struck in the head by a line drive for a second time in his career in his June 3 start for Pawtucket and left his last MLB start on June 14 with shoulder soreness, which has placed him on the disabled list.
Tanner Houck (2017, 24th Pick)
Five years after Johnson, the Red Sox selected another college pitcher, taking Tanner Houck out of the University of Missouri. What can we expect his career will look like?
Based on the past record of Red Sox picks, the fair answer is we just don’t know. While it is highly improbable, Tanner could become one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history, like Roger Clemens. Or he could become a serviceable, if unspectacular starter for a long time like Aaron Sele. Or he could find his niche as a reliever, like Daniel Bard and Matt Barnes. Or, like Tom Fisher, he may never make it to the majors at all.
The route to the majors is fraught with perils. Like Brian Johnson, Houck may have to fight his way through injury and/or non-baseball related issues. Or, he may show dominance in the minors, but not be able to adjust to MLB like Anthony Ranaudo. There is no road to Boston that does not have some potholes to avoid – and there is no certainty that Tanner won’t hit one and run aground. But, even if Houck does make it to Boston, an MLB career can also be turbulent. Professional baseball is a game of constant and consistent adjustment, only time will tell if Houck can become a master in this domain.