May 26, 2015 at 8:00 AM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- 22-year-old left-hander Henry Owens took the McCoy Stadium mound against the Columbus Clippers, Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, on May 15. Owens’s final line for the day showed six innings pitched, three hits, no runs, one walk, and five strikeouts. He threw 88 pitches total with 53 for strikes. Owens threw first-pitch strikes to 11 of 21 batters and generated six total swing-and-misses in his six innings of work.
Now listed at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Owens reportedly put on 20 pounds of muscle heading into the 2015 season (Link). Owens has packed on muscle considerably each off-season since being drafted out of high-school in 2011 at 175 pounds. Physically, Owens has very long arms and legs, and will always be on the skinny and lean side, so it is tough to see a noticeable difference in his stature from the stands. This added bulk should help Owens through the course of a season after he admittedly felt that his body began to break down and did not feel like he had his legs under him towards the end of the 2014 season after 168 innings, a significant increase from his 135-inning total in 2013.
But while the added muscle will certainly be beneficial in the long-term, in the short term, I believe that, and his body having to adapt to muscle gains each year, could be playing a factor in his body’s ability to maintain muscle memory and repeat his delivery on a consistent basis. Owens has struggled with his overall control to date, with 30 walks in 42.1 innings pitched. Encouragingly, Owens only walked one batter this outing, his lowest total in eight starts this season. His command did come and go all outing, but he was able to consistently stay around the strike zone. This was a positive development, as he has battled with keeping his mechanics in sync and limiting the walks all year. Owens’s tall, lanky frame has always made it difficult to harness his mechanics and release point on a consistent basis.
In this outing, Owens’s fastball sat 88-91 mph and topped out at 93 mph. He did not have his best command and control of the pitch, and would often miss up and away to right-handed hitters. This often occurred because he would get quick out in front of his delivery and his arm would lag behind. It was an average-grade fastball at best this outing that he was able to get away with due in large part to his deception and the angle that he creates towards home, making the pitch difficult to pick up. However, he was only able to generate one swing-and-miss with the fastball all outing, and it is not a pitch that projects to miss many bats going forward.
The changeup is Owens’s bread and butter. It grades as an easy plus-grade pitch and is double-plus at its best. The Clippers featured eight right-handed hitters in the lineup. I would have expected Owens to steamroll through the lineup with a heavy dose of changeups away from the righties, but strangely enough, Owens threw a very small percentage of changeups. He was seemingly focused on developing the curveball, as he threw a large percentage of them, even in two-strike counts when he knew he could have picked up a strikeout with the changeup.
When he did throw it, the change was 78-79 mph with plus fade and sink. He threw three of them with three-ball counts and picked up swing-and-misses with all of them. It was easy to see how advanced Owens’s confidence and feel for the pitch is for him to throw the pitch behind in counts, with conviction, for strikes.
But as mentioned, the curveball was the secondary pitch of choice for Owens, as he was most definitely focused on developing it in this outing. The curveball was 72-75 mph with his usual long, loose break. The pitch breaks early out of his hand and is fairly easy to pick up. He was able to throw the pitch consistently for strikes, which was encouraging. Overall, he was more consistent with the pitch than I have seen previously in terms of break and control, which allowed the pitch to grade out as at least an average-grade offering. He often elected to throw backdoor curveballs to right-handed hitters. He was able to generate three of his six total swing-and-misses with the curveball.
Owens also appeared to incorporate his new slider on two occasions at 78-82 mph. The pitch had decent tilt and was nothing more than a show-me pitch this outing, but could be a potential average grade fourth offering for him down the road.
It is easy to forget that Owens is still only 22 years of age; he was the eighth-youngest pitcher in all of Triple-A at the time he made this start. Owens still projects as a solid middle or back-end starter down the road, with some projection left in his development—namely, improved overall command and continued improvements with the curveball and, perhaps, slider). Owens does not need to be added to the 40-man roster until this off-season, and with fellow PawSox left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson seemingly ready for their first tastes of the majors, I would not be surprised if Owens did not get his first chance at the big league level until 2016.
Photo credit: Henry Owens by Kelly O'Connor.
Chaz Fiorino is Assistant Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @cbfiorino.