November 13, 2014 at 7:30 AM
All entries in this year's Top 40 Season in Review series can be found here.
#2: Henry Owens, SP
2014 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs, Pawtucket Red Sox
Final Stats: 159 IP, 17-5, 2.94 ERA, 121 H, 53 R/52 ER, 59 BB, 170 K, 1.13 WHIP
Season in Review: Owens entered 2014 looking to follow up on his breakout 2013 campaign, in which he went 11-6 with a 2.67 ERA between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, striking out 169 batters in 135 innings and becoming a consensus Top 100 prospect, ranked as such by Baseball America (#40), Baseball Prospectus (#69), and MLB.com (#30). The lanky lefty started the season strong, hurling a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter in his first start and following with 6 2/3 shutout innings in his next start, striking out nine in each outing and making many wonder if he was not long for the level. Owens did come down to earth in his next three starts, giving up 12 earned runs in 16 innings, allowing 19 hits and 10 walks while striking out only 11 hitters, but that stretch proved to be essentially the final bump in the road as he reeled off a stretch of 11 starts between early May and the All-Star break in which he allowed just 38 hits and 27 walks in 71 innings, posting a 1.39 ERA and striking out 76 hitters. He threw several gems in that stretch, but the most eye-popping was an eight-inning display of dominance on July 6 to enter the break, in which he allowed one run on three hits and a walk while striking out 11.
In all, he went 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 17 starts in the first half, striking out more than a batter per inning. He occasionally was bit by occasional struggles with his command - for example, he allowed no hits in one start May 14 and struck out eight hitters, but lasted just four innings after allowing five walks en route to throwing 87 pitches - but he made adjustments in that area as well, walking just 20 hitters in 70 2/3 innings in what would be his final 11 starts for Portland. He was named to the Eastern League All-Star game as well as the Futures Game, earning the start in the latter (manager Tom Kelly admitted this was because his win total was highest on the team) and hurling a scoreless inning.
After starting off the second half of the season with two wins in three starts, Owens was promoted to Pawtucket and made his debut on August 4. He did not skip a beat in his PawSox debut, also the Triple-A debut of catcher Blake Swihart, as he tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings, striking out nine in a victory. His remaining five regular season starts proved more trying, as Triple-A hitters squared him up for 30 hits in 31 1/3 innings and took him deep four times after he had allowed just six long balls in 121 innings in Double-A. He did continue to miss bats, striking out 35 hitters, and continued to limit free passes by allowing just nine walks. In the playoffs, Owens made two starts, allowing eight runs on 11 hits and six walks in eight innings while striking out 11. Despite his August promotion, Owens led the Eastern League in wins (14), complete games (3), and strikeouts (126), finishing third in ERA (2.60) and being named the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Year, edging out teammate Brian Johnson. – John Gray
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: Listed at 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, Owens is a tall, lanky, left-handed pitcher with room for added strength. His long limbs, short arm action, and angle towards home create exceptional deception in his delivery. He uses a three-pitch mix with his fastball, curveball, and changeup. The fastball generally sits between 87-90 mph, and he can reach back for 91-92 when needed. The fastball is wild within the zone with fringe-average command. The pitch grades about average and has future plus potential with improved command and added strength gains generating an uptick in velocity. The changeup is his best secondary offering at 77-79 mph. The pitch grades well above-average with late drop and fade away from left handed hitters. He has great feel and control of the pitch, and a willingness to throw it in any count, to both righties and lefties, and to both sides of the plate with confidence. His third offering is an average-grade curve ranging 71-75 mph with long, loose 1-to-7 break. The pitch showed improvement late in the year - a point he was vocal about in interviews. It flashed above-average potential with some tighter break, and and Owens showed an ability to throw it for strikes.
Owens's profile projects best as a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter. Still only 22 years old and possessing a lanky frame, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Owens could put on added strength and see in uptick in velocity, continue to improve the curveball, and possibly add a serviceable slider or cutter to his repertoire (he has thrown the former in the past). Those variables would give Owens a chance to develop in to a number-two starter. Owens will open the year with Pawtucket and get his first full season taste of Triple-A. He does not need to be added to the 40-man roster until after next season, and with roster flexibility at a premium right now, the club will not rush him to the majors. While external factors will play a large role in determining the date of his first big-league call-up, I would not expect to see Owens in the big leagues for any extended period in 2015 unless he dominates with consistency in Pawtucket. - Chaz Fiorino
Additional editorial support provided by Norm Cimon.
Photo Credit: Kelly O'Connor