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March 9, 2012 at 7:37 AM

2012 Prospect Previews: Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Henry Owens

Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Position: Outfield
2011 Teams: Lowell Spinners/Greenville Drive
2012 Projected Team: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 21

Strengths: Bradley utilizes a smooth, fluid stroke from the left side of the plate. He generates plus batspeed via a quick trigger and strong wrists that allow him to pull the head of the bat out in front of the ball through the hitting zone. He keeps himself balanced well while closing down his stance and has little head moment. Bradley has the hit tool to develop into a plus hitter for batting average and produce high levels of contact as he learns the professional game. Although on the lean side, he is capable of driving balls well into the gaps with solid backspin. With some upward plane in his swing path, Bradley has the power potential to hit around 15 home runs at the major league level as he continues to physically develop. The offensive tools are there to round into a solid-average overall hitter in the big leagues. A natural centerfielder, Bradley’s defensive ability is his biggest strength. Extremely natural and fluid when tracking flyballs, he gets excellent reads off the bat. He takes solid routes to the ball to cover above-average ground in center. Bradley’s speed down the line only grades as average, but he projects to stick in centerfield due to his strong instincts and fundamentals. Rounding out his defensive package is a plus arm with solid-average accuracy to the bases. He demonstrates the type of body control to quickly spin and throw when cutting balls off in gaps, while also showing an aptitude for properly positioning himself to get momentum behind throws when spotting up under flyballs. Bradley has the ceiling of big league regular on a contending team.

Development Needs: Bradley needs to polish his approach at the plate to allow his hit tool to produce high levels of solid contact. He has a tendency to consistently look middle-in during at-bats, leaving him prone to being exposed by fastballs away and unable to pull the trigger against these offerings. Improvement covering the entire plate will allow him to evolve into a hitter who uses the entire field against professional pitching. Building that mindset is a key early development point. It will be important for Bradley to not fall into the bad habit of consistently trying to pull the ball against the relatively inexperienced pitching he is going to see early in his career. If he’s able use the opposite field regularly early in his career, it will make his transition to the upper levels more smooth. He can also extend early and get long with his swing when trying to pull the ball. This causes him to get jammed by inside fastballs and produce weak contact. Bradley has the type of hands to hit inside of the baseball, but needs to focus more on pulling them in during his swing. At times, he thinks he is a hitter for power. As Bradley sees more advanced pitching and they can command fastballs in this spot frequently, they will give him trouble without attention dedicated to shortening down his swing. While his defensive skills can carry him up the ranks of the organization, the process of polishing off his approach and learning how to hit with his skill set will be the keys to projecting as more than a fourth outfielder.

2012 Outlook: Bradley enters his first spring training with the organization set to man centerfield in a full-season assignment with one of the A-Ball teams. He showed the beginnings of recognizing his need to hit to all fields during his time in the Fall Instructional League, which could push his placement to High A with Salem. His progress in spring training will likely be a strong deciding factor. Regardless of where Bradley begins the year, his near-term developmental goals remain the same. Consistently using the whole field this season is a good sign that he is focusing on taking what is given to him and mentally committed to staying back on the ball. I see him being challenged in the lower minors this year, but then proving to be ahead of the curve as his professional experience builds during the summer months. His hitting skills looked advanced enough coming into the system to adjust relative quickly. 2012 will serve as a season for Bradley to hone his approach and get used to the grind of the long professional season. With progress learning to use the whole field and improvement hitting inside the baseball, he has strong potential to show he is ready for an assignment in Double-A during the 2013 season.

Henry Owens
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Did not pitch
2011 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 19

Standing 6’7’’, the left-handed Owens has a solid frame for generating downhill leverage when throwing the baseball. Sitting 89-92 mph, his fastball shows late arm-side tail and loosely comes out of his hand. Owens presently tops out at 93 mph when reaching back, with the potential to improve his sitting velocity as he physically matures. He generates fastball velocity with an easy and well-paced delivery. Owens also is deceptive when throwing his fastball. He hides the ball till the end of his motion causing it to jump out of his uniform at hitters. Compounded by his long arms, opposing batters do not get a good look at his fastball until it is on top of them. As he continues to learn to stay on top of the ball and throw downhill, his heater has the potential to develop into a very effective big league pitch. Owens’ best secondary offering is a 74-76 mph curveball. He stays above the ball well and finishes the pitch consistently to produce hard snap. The curve displays deep break as it bites down through the strike zone. This offering can develop more power as he matures and project as a plus-to-better pitch at the major league level. Owens also shows strong command of his curve, capable of burying it out of the strike zone or dropping it in for a strike. Overall, he has a strong package of tools and the ceiling of a second starter on a first division team.

Development Needs: Given Owens’ size, he is always going to have to work to keep himself balanced during his delivery. He will need to continue to learn how to control his body, while learning to recognize when his delivery is starting to come out of whack. Still on the lean side, he also needs to add strength to mitigate the wear and tear caused to pitchers by the longer professional season. Presently, his body is not built for the rigors of the long season, but he has a lot of room on his frame to pack on muscle as he gets into his early-twenties. Owens’ fastball command will be tested by the more advanced professional hitters he will be facing. While his delivery is deceptive, the instances of opposing hitters swinging at his motion will be reduced and that will place more emphasis on spotting his heater on both sides of the plate consistently. He cannot live in the upper tier of the strike zone. Owens can get by on pure stuff in the low minors, but needs early focus on pushing his fastball command towards plus to transition smoothly into the upper minors. Also utilizing a low-80s changeup, the continued development of this offering is key to sticking on the path of a starting pitcher. Owens shows good feel for the offering, but can leave it up in the strike zone too much, where it tends to float. Improved smoothness with delivering it will also enhance the deception from his fastball. Owens tips his change at times by reducing his arm-speed.

2012 Outlook: Owens did not pitch after signing with the organization last season, but did appear in the Fall Instructional League. His stuff looked advanced enough to break camp with Greenville to begin this coming season. Owens has the feel for pitching and arsenal to be successful at this level in 2012. His curveball should prove to be an offering that fools hitters in A-Ball. The consistency of his fastball command will drive his overall results during game action. If Owens is spotting up on the corners and avoiding the middle of the plate, he should limit the amount of contact he gives up. His knowledge of how to pitch to his strengths will lead to a relatively quick assimilation against the level of competition. The physical toll of the professional season is where Owens is likely to experience the biggest adjustment. Given his need for strength, I expect him to wear down over the course of the season and have to fight through the mid-season wall. Owens is highly projectable and has the raw stuff to develop into a pitcher who is very nasty on batters as he progresses with his development. I see 2012 as a year of subtle steps towards reaching that potential.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen