Henry Owens delivers. Photo by Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net

Henry Owens delivers. Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.net

This week I’m going to take a close look at Sox pitching prospect Henry Owens, who had a great performance in 2012 but has the potential for even greater performance in the future. Owens’ first season offered truly tantalizing upside, and he’s the pitching prospect I’m most excited about in the Sox lower levels.

The Sox selected Owens with the 36th pick in the 2011 draft in the supplemental first round. This pick was compensation for losing Victor Martinez in free agency. The tall 6’7” lefty starred his senior season for Edison high school in California and signed for a $1.5 million signing bonus. The Red Sox tend to tread carefully with high school pitchers, so it was a surprise to see Owens assigned to full season baseball out of Spring Training. He rewarded the faith shown in him by pitching 102 quality innings for Greenville, striking out an eye popping 11.5 batters per nine innings. He had a high ERA at 4.87, but a FIP of 3.49 which suggests that he got a bit unlucky with balls in play and poor defense behind him.

I wanted to get an idea of how good his first season was, so I compared his numbers against other Sox top pitching prospects in their first full seasons. I included Jon Lester and Casey Kelly, both high draft picks drafted out of high school. I also included Clay Buchholz, who was drafted out of junior college so entered the Sox system at a young age.

Name Age Team IP K K/9 BB/9 ERA
Henry Owens 19 Greenville 102 130 11.5 4.2 4.87
Jon Lester 19 Augusta 106 71 6 3.7 3.65
Clay Buchholz 21 Greenville- Wilmington 119 140 10.6 2.5 2.42
Casey Kelly 19 Greenville- Salem 95 74 7 1.5 2.08

As you can see from the chart, Owens’ K/9 rate was the highest of any of the four pitchers. His walk rate was pretty high, but the ability he demonstrated in 2012 to miss bats should help him as he faces more advanced hitters. I’m not trying to say that Owens will be the next Jon Lester, as he has several years of development left and many obstacles to overcome before he makes the major leagues. I am trying to demonstrate how impressive his debut season with Greenville truly was.

All smiles for Henry Owens. Photo by Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net

All smiles for Henry Owens. Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.net

Owens has several strengths already from a scouting perspective. His fastball sits comfortably in the low 90’s, and he has a solid curveball that could become a plus pitch. He is tall and lanky, but his frame suggests he can add muscle, and this will be a key to his future development. He will need to get stronger, both to add more velocity, and to survive the rigors of a full season. The Sox will slowly add innings to his workload, but the 102 innings he pitched this past season are a solid base that he can build from. The biggest reason I’m excited for Owens is that while his 2012 was impressive, he still has plenty of projection left.

I have hopefully given enough reasons for everyone to jump on the Henry Owens bandwagon, but at this point I need to tap the brakes a bit. He still has plenty of work to do to transform from a pitcher with success at the minor league level to a major league caliber pitcher. The first is to improve his command and control. His walk rate of 4.2 batters per nine innings is too high for a successful starter. The second area where he needs to work is his changeup. Most pitchers can’t succeed as a starting pitcher with 2 pitches, so developing his changeup will be crucial. Finally, he will need to add fastball velocity. These 3 areas will determine his ultimate ceiling in the majors. If he can’t develop harness his command or develop a solid change up, he could end up as a bullpen arm. If he doesn’t add any velocity to his fastball, he could top out as a back end starter in the majors. Finally, health is the biggest factor for any pitching prospect. Like all prospects, Owens will need to avoid injury to fulfill his high potential.