Henry Owens entered this season as one of a handful of top Red Sox pitching prospects. After a breakout 2013, he’s finishing the season as arguably their top pitching prospect. SoxProspects.com have him ranked as the number three prospect in the Red Sox system, up from number nine earlier in the year. So how has Owens managed to dominate opponents in 2013?
The number for Owens that popped of the page in his debut season was his gaudy 11.51 strikeout rate per nine innings. He’s managed to keep that number above 11 despite jumping two levels in competition during 2013. Nearly a third of batters who have faced Owens this season have struck out.
While he’s striking hitters out at a high rate, those who do put the ball in play are making weak contact. His line drive percentage has dropped from 15% in 2012 to 9.2% this year, and he has cut his home runs allowed per nine innings almost in half. His groundball rate has risen from 35.2% to 38.6%. Finally, hitters are only hitting .173 against Owens this season with an anemic .255 slugging percentage.
So where is the chink in Owen’s armor? The answer lies in continued struggles with his control. He walked over four batters per nine innings in 2012, and that number has actually gone up to almost 5 per nine innings this season. This was illustrated in a recent start in Portland where he walked seven batters in only three innings.
There have also been scouts who have come away unimpressed with Owen’s stuff. Alex Speier quoted a scout in a recent piece who said “I cannot figure out how his numbers are so good compared to his stuff.” This scout rated Owens as a 4-5 starter, not the top of the rotation starter the Red Sox are hoping for.
There are two answers to this concern. The first is that at age 21, Owens still has time to gain some physical strength and maturity. This could add some more velocity to Owen’s fastball, which right now sits in the high 80’s to low 90’s.
The second answer remains the stats themselves. The scouts may see slightly above average stuff, but hitters who face Owens are telling a different story. He has to be creating great deception for the hitting numbers to be as poor as they are. Through three minor league levels, he has been extremely difficult to hit.
With the upper minors stacked with pitching prospects several years older than Owens, the Red Sox can afford to take a patient approach to his development. He will be given time to improve his command and control, strengthen his secondary arsenal, and hopefully add some fastball velocity as his body fills out.
For now, Sox fans can dream on the potential of another young pitching prospect. Here’s hoping he turns out like the last high school lefty the Sox took at the top of the draft before him. His name? Jon Lester.