May 7, 2015 at 8:00 AM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- With the ongoing struggles of some members of the Boston Red Sox major league rotation, the focus on the club’s starting pitching prospects in Pawtucket is magnified. The Pawtucket rotation features three highly regarded left-handed prospects in Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, and Brian Johnson, all looking to position themselves for a big league role at some point in 2015, while right-hander Matt Barnes moved out of the rotation last night to prepare him for a major league bullpen role.
Last week, I got my first look at Owens this year. He had his struggles over his five-plus innings of work, showing he still has a lot to work on in Triple-A before entering the picture for a potential call-up. Interestingly, Owens showed off a new pitch, one that he is still in the early stages of learning to throw, but with continued repetition could be key for his development going forward.
Owens has definitely filled out his 6-foot-6 frame since he entered the organization, but he is still on the lanky side and likely always will be. Owens has long levers and as a result, he can have trouble repeating his delivery, which impacts his command and control. This was a problem throughout the outing, and something that plagued him throughout the first month of the season, issuing 17 walks in 21 innings of work in April.
Owens throws from the first base side of the rubber from a high three-quarters arm slot. He does not get the extension you would expect for someone his height, and has some cross-fire in his delivery. He is a surprisingly good athlete and showed off what could be a very effective quick step-off, pick-off move. He has deception in his delivery, but when he does not command his fastball, the deception does not help him much. Owens sat 89-91 mph with his fastball, topping out at 92 mph a good number of times, primarily in the first few innings. With only average velocity, Owens does not have a great margin for error, and even Triple-A hitters will make him pay when he misses his spot.
During this outing, Owens had both command and control issues, walking three in his five innings of work and giving up a fair number of hard-hit balls on missed locations. Control coming and going within outings has been an issue a number of times when I have seen Owens—he will really struggle to locate his fastball one inning, and then seems to flip a switch for the next inning and is fine. In this outing, Owens came out in the first and really struggled to locate. He was consistently missing arm-side and up and his delivery was out of sync, his front side leaking open early and arm dragging behind. After the first, his control was better, but he still had command issues. He especially had issues commanding the pitch arm-side, and as a whole lacked confidence with the pitch, backing off of it in favor of his changeup at times.
Most concerning, however, was the type of swings hitters were getting against it. In past looks, even if his command was off, Owens still missed bats with the pitch and elicited weak contact due to the great deception that made the pitch play up. In this outing, a prospect-barren lineup, save for Michael Taylor, put a lot of good swings on the pitch and made a fair amount of solid contact in five innings. It was clear Owens did not have great feel for the pitch, and this is something that bears watching, because if Triple-A hitters are not getting fooled by his fastball, then neither will big league hitters.
Even though Owens had issues with his fastball, he still showed why his changeup is considered a true separator pitch. He has supreme confidence in the pitch, willing to throw it in any count and to both right- and left-handed hitters. He throws it 76-78 mph, and it was by far his best pitch in this outing. He recorded four of his six strikeouts with it, and eight swinging strikes overall. He throws the pitch with the exact same arm speed as his fastball, but it shows late drop and fade, as if he pulled the string on it. The pitch was plus in this outing, and will flash even higher when it is at its best.
Owens also mixed in his curveball more than I have seen in the past, getting inconsistent results. The pitch came in 72-74 mph, and at the lower end it was long and loopy, hanging in the zone a long time. The pitch lacks tight rotation and rolls to the plate. He did throw a few better ones at the higher end of the velocity range, with those pitches showing tighter rotation and depth. Even so, the pitch is still a below-average to fringe-average offering with the potential to become an average offering with improved consistency and refinement.
In addition to his curveball, Owens also threw two sliders. Owens threw the pitch in high school, but had not thrown it in professional ball until recently. He explained this in an article by our own Matt Huegel after this same start (link): “I threw it a little bit in high school, just messing around with it. It's definitely a new pitch … I’m still throwing it in the ‘pen, trying to get comfortable with it.”
Owens threw the sliders at 77 and 79 mph, with one missing up and out of the zone and the other getting fouled off. It was clear the pitch was a work in progress, but it had decent rotation and some bite. It was on the horizontal side, and lacked tilt, but with continued improvement, the pitch could become a key offering for him. Owens’ slow curveball is not a pitch that many pitchers have success with at the big league level, but a high-70s slider is a pitch that can be very effective if thrown correctly. The development of this pitch is something I will be watching closely as the season progresses.
This outing was pretty typical for what I have come to expect when seeing Owens. His changeup is very effective, but his fastball command and control comes and goes, and his breaking ball is inconsistent. Even though he is in Pawtucket, Owens still has a lot to work on before he will be considered for a call up, and it would not surprise me if Owens spent the entire season in Pawtucket. That would not necessarily the worst thing for his development, as it would also allow him time to work on his slider in a lower stress environment.
Photo credit: Henry Owens by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.