June 26, 2014 at 9:00 AM
The second game of the doubleheader on June 20 was my second look at Henry Owens this season and the left-hander did not disappoint, tossing a seven-inning complete game. The first time I saw Owens back in April, he got roughed up giving up six hits in four innings, including a pair of home runs as well as three walks. He really struggled with his command that day, but also wasn’t helped by a strong wind blowing out to center field. In this more recent look, Owens worked seven innings, allowing five hits on primarily weak contact and two walks, while striking out eight, all swinging. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 out of the 21 batters he faced and elicited 16 swinging strikes in total. He also got eight ground outs compared to only one fly out.
This time around, Owens was in control throughout the start, showing off his potent fastball-changeup combination. Owens is every bit of his listed height and has a strong starting pitcher's frame. He has extremely long limbs, which for some pitchers could cause their delivery to get out of sorts easily, but Owens does a good job mitigating this with his free and easy, controlled delivery. He is very loose on the mound, expending little energy in his delivery from pitch to pitch. When Owens finishes his delivery, his length allows him to get good leverage on the ball. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, but in this most recent outing he varied his arm angle at times. Owens also gets great deception from his delivery as the ball comes out from right behind his head. That deception in conjunction with his long limbs that allow him to get extension towards the plate mean hitters tend not to be able to pick the ball up until very late. This is important for Owens as it allows him to get away with spotty command at times and only average-to-slightly-better velocity.
Owens’ fastball velocity in this outing was the best that I’ve seen from him. In the April outing, Owens sat 87-89 mph, topping out at 91. In this more recent outing, Owens sat 90-92 mph, topping out at 93 mph with the pitch jumping on hitters. He held his velocity throughout the outing, still sitting 89-92 mph in the seventh inning, even after 90-plus pitches. He was effective with the pitch throughout, generating plenty of weak contact and for the most part keeping it down in the zone. He lost his release point in the fourth inning for a stretch, missing up and in glove-side, but was able to get locked back in and pitch around a leadoff walk. He was able to locate the fastball to both sides of the plate and it showed late downward movement along with some cut on occasion. He recorded two of his eight strikeouts with the pitch, both times on well-located 91-mph fastballs, one in against a left-handed hitter and the other away from a right-handed hitter. Owens pitched to contact with the offering, eliciting plenty of weak ground balls. The pitch flattened out when Owens left it up in the zone, but in this outing he only did that a handful of times and got away with it because of his ability to pitch backwards with his changeup. At present, the heater grades as average, but due to a combination of deception and improved command it could play solid-average to plus.
Owens had great success with his changeup in this outing, showing confidence in the offering, the ability to throw it for strikes in any count and also to miss bats. Owens threw the pitch at 77-79 mph and recorded six of his eight strikeouts with it. The change is a weapon for him, grading out as plus-to-better presently, as it comes in with the same arm speed as his fastball, before showing late arm-side fade and drop. On occasion, he also turned the pitch over and it showed some cut. He was able to command the offering and consistently bury it down and in to right-handed hitters and away from left-handed hitters. If Owens can consistently throw the pitch for strikes like he could in the recent outing scouted, the changeup has the potential to grade out as a plus-plus offering.
Owens also featured his curveball during the outing, but didn’t incorporate the pitch much until the fifth inning. Up to that point, he only threw two of them, both of which were poor. In the fifth, he started to incorporate it more and it showed solid-average potential. Owens threw the pitch a little harder than I had seen previously, primarily 72-74 mph, while also mixing in a couple of the slower curves at 69 mph. At the higher velocity range, the pitch showed nice shape and tight rotation, but on the lower end it was long and loose. In the lower velocity range, the pitch could be effective as a way to steal a strike, but not as a very effective third offering to also miss bats. In the higher velocity range, however, I see more potential in the pitch and it could be a solid third offering to complement his fastball and changeup and miss bats. He showed this potential on the final pitch of the game, burying a sharp 74-mph curve down in the zone against a left-handed hitter for a swinging strikeout.
On a whole, this outing showcased Owens’ strengths and why he is thought of as one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in the game and a potential mid-rotation starter on a first-division team (not a knock on his ability at all, mid-rotation starters are extremely valuable in this day and age). However, even with that said, Owens still has some things to work on, especially fastball command, as even though his walk rate is down, he still can get into trouble when he doesn’t locate the offering in the zone. Owens could also stand to improve upon his curveball. At present, he can get caught in between the harder version and the slower one, and if he can consistently throw the sharper hard version, rather than the long, loose slower one, it could develop into a third offering that is average or maybe even slightly better. I can see Owens sticking in Double-A through the Futures Game, with a call-up to Triple-A soon thereafter. If his development continues on the path that it is on, he should push for his first major league call-up at some point during the 2015 season.
Photo credit: Henry Owens by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.