July 28, 2016 at 10:20 AM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Though not technically a prospect anymore by conventional standards, left-handed pitcher Henry Owens has spent most of the season with Pawtucket working through some struggles, especially with his control. In total this season, Owens has thrown 101 1/3 innings in Pawtucket, walking 65 and striking out 96 with a 4.17 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Given the struggles the Red Sox have had with their rotation, Owens returning to peak form could be an important boost to the depth heading down the stretch run.
Over his last six starts Owens has had his issues, with a 5.97 ERA in that period, but appears to be taking steps towards getting back on track over the last few outings. The recent start scouted on July 16 was his best in that stretch when he allowed only one hit in 7 2/3 innings with two walks and four strikeouts. In this start, Owens looked like a different pitcher compared to the pitcher I’ve seen in the past, pitching to contact and most notably utilizing his slider far more than his curveball.
Though Owens is still on the tall and lanky side, he does not look like he is going to fill out much more. He has extremely long levers and, as a result, a lot of moving parts in his delivery. At times, this can give him trouble repeating his delivery and bringing his arm through cleanly at the finish. In past looks, the control and command issues with Owens’ fastball have stemmed from his arm lagging behind, causing his release point to vary. When that did happen in this outing, Owens did a good job correcting the issue quickly, leading to only two walks and improved command as well. The first time Owens issued a walk, he came right back and threw three consecutive strikes before getting a weak ground out on a changeup. The second time came directly after he gave up an infield single in the eighth that ended his no-hit bid, and was his last batter of the game.
In this outing, Owens’ fastball sat 88-90 mph, with a handful of 87, and some 91 mixed in as well. Owens did a nice job locating the offering to his arm side while keeping it away from the middle of the plate, generating a lot of weak contact early in counts. One of Owens’ problems has always been running into high pitch counts early in games as a result of not getting a lot of easy outs early in at-bats. The opposite was on display on this occasion as he threw four or fewer pitches to 19 of the 27 batters he faced. Accordingly, Owens’ strikeout numbers were down, but this also allowed him to get an out into the eighth inning, something he had not done yet this year. Owens’ fastball does not miss as many bats as it did at the lower levels because his deception does not play as well against more advanced bats. Nonetheless, he still induced eight swing–and-misses in this outing, five against lefties and three against righties.
Owens used all three of his secondary pitches, but primarily relied on his slider and changeup. His slider is a relatively new addition to his arsenal, only beginning to incorporate it last year. This outing was the best the pitch has looked when I’ve seen him and by far the most he has thrown it. The pitch came in 82-84 mph mainly with short, horizontal movement. While it lacks tilt and movement, but it is a good complement to his fastball and changeup since it comes in at a new velocity range and gives hitters another pitch they have to worry about. He only got one swing-and-miss against it, but showed a willingness to use it at any time in the count and to both right-handed and left-handed hitters. With improved consistency the pitch could develop into fringe-average offering.
Owens’ changeup was his best secondary pitch on the evening, as has been the case most of his career, showing late drop at 77-80 mph. He throws the pitch with deceptive arm speed, but did noticeably slow his body on a few occasions. The pitch also did not show as much movement as past looks, but was still effective, especially against righties. He induced all four of his swings-and-misses with the pitch against righties, and generated a lot of weak contact with it.
With Owens relying on his other two secondary offerings, his curveball was largely relegated to a show-me role to try and steal a strike early in the count. He threw it a little harder at 70-74 mph, but it still lacked tight rotation and is on the slow and loopy side with long 1-7 break. In this role, when used in the proper sequence, the pitch could be effective by giving hitters a look they are not expecting, often resulting in a take. If he can consistently throw it for strikes, it can be an easy way to get ahead of a few hitters a game, especially when he is struggling to locate his fastball.
Overall, this was an encouraging outing for Owens as he showed he could get by without his best stuff and without having to strike every hitter out. He did a good job mixing all his pitches and commanding his fastball, two areas which are key for his long-term potential. The development of his slider is also encouraging. Given that Owens only has one above-average pitch in his changeup, he does not have much margin for error, especially with his fastball. If Owens can continue to show improvement in those areas like in this outing, he could put himself back in contention should the Red Sox need to call a starter up at some point during the rest of the season.
Photo credit: Henry Owens by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.