November 5, 2013 at 8:00 AM
This week, SoxProspects.com wraps up its season-end countdown of the top 40 prospects in the system, recapping their seasons and previewing what's ahead in 2014. You can find all of the entries in this year's series here.
#4 Henry Owens, LHP
2013 Teams: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs
Final Stats: 135 IP, 11-6, 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 169 SO, 68 BB
Pre-2013: The Red Sox selected California high schooler Owens in the supplemental first round (36th overall) in the 2011 Draft as a tall, projectable left-hander with a high ceiling. He signed in mid-August at the deadline, with $1.55 million enough to lure him away from his commitment to the University of Miami. Although he signed too late to make his pro debut that season, he participated in the Fall Instructional League.
Owens spent all of 2012 with Greenville and started to flash what made him so appealing to teams the year prior. He pitched in 23 games with the Drive, but while his 4.87 ERA and 1.45 WHIP were not dominant, he struck out batters at a rate of 11.5 times per nine innings. Looking deeper, Owens’s numbers were inflated due to a penchant for falling victim to the big inning, typically due to a combination of briefly losing his mechanics and getting burned by defensive lapses behind him. Still, he shot up from 20th in April to 8th by season’s end in the SoxProspects.com rankings after showing great potential.
2013 Season in Review: Owens’s 2013 campaign proved to be a significant step forward and culminated in him being named the SoxProspects.com Pitcher of the Year. The 6-foot-6, 205-pound southpaw opened up as a 20-year-old with High A Salem, and he simply dominated, earning Carolina League All-Star recognition. Owens wrapped up his four-month tenure in Salem with a 2.92 ERA and 1.14 WHIP to go with his 10.6 strikeouts-per-nine rate (123 in 104 2/3 innings), although he walked 4.6 batters per nine (53 walks). At one point, during parts of four starts between July 11 and July 28, he went 19 1/3 innings without yielding a hit. The best of those outings was a six-inning effort July 17, during which he struck out 10 during a combined no-hitter, leading to his second Pitcher of the Week honor of the season.
His lone month with the Sea Dogs featured a third Pitcher of the Week award (Aug. 12-18) after five no-hit, 10-strikeout innings. He posted a 1.78 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, striking out 46 batters in 30 1/3 innings while batters managed just a .167 average. Walks were still an issue, as he allowed 15 free passes, but seven came in one three-inning outing, the lone hiccup in his Double-A tenure.
First-Hand Report and 2014 Outlook: A fringy top-100 pick last season, landing at 91 on Baseball America’s 2012 list, Owens rightfully shot fully onto the radar in 2013, though the disparity in projections for him illustrate what lays ahead in his development. Early in the season, Owens’ fastball sat 91-93 mph, and he was able to maintain a consistent arm slot with his swing-and-miss 78-81 mph changeup and mid-70s, 11-to-5 curveball. As the season progressed, however, his fastball settled in between 89-91 mph. His changeup remained a legitimate out pitch, but Owens’ curveball reverted to the low-70s offering it was in 2012. He can locate the curveball for strikes in any count, but the organization has stressed to him that it should be harder.
The differences in Owens’ projections stem from his usage of those pitches from start to start. In a half dozen looks this year, I didn’t see the same plan or pitch usage twice from him. Part of this is attributable to the small size of the eight-team Carolina League. In late April, Owens faced Wilmington twice in a row, and barely threw his curveball in the second outing because the Blue Rocks hitters had such trouble with his changeup the first time. In other starts, he leaned more heavily on the curveball at the expense of his changeup. While it could be construed as inconsistency, my own inclination is that it’s a sign of a smart young pitcher who can read hitters’ swings and knows his stuff well.
Overall, Owens projects as a starting pitcher, though how he uses his pitches at the highest level will dictate how successful he is. While he could stand to hold his fastball velocity deeper into the games—and the season—his consistent arm slot with all three pitches adds a split-second of hesitation that makes his fastball get on hitters faster than the velocity indicates. Owens was just as successful in six Double-A starts as he was towards the end of his stint in Salem, when his teammates were openly wondering why he had not been promoted yet. Given the glut of pitching prospects in Triple-A and his limited experience in Portland, Owens will likely return to Maine for the start of his age 21 season. – Jon Meoli
Photo Credit: Henry Owens by Kelly O'Connor.