Red Sox’s Owens Flashes Elite Potential in Pawtucket Win


With a fully capable rotation on the major league level, the Boston Red Sox have little reason to dip down to their minors and promote any of their top prospects. Yet the decision to keep their young starters in Triple-A could quickly become more difficult as the season progresses.

One of those prospects, left-hander Henry Owens, delivered a major league worthy performance on Saturday night as the Pawtucket Red Sox defeated the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, 5-4.  Owens looked to be headed towards a no-hitter until Phillies’ prospect Maikel Franco hit a smoldering double to left-field on an off-speed pitch left up in the sixth inning.

After a rough Spring Training where he posted a 8.74 ERA including an outing where gaveup five runs in three-plus innings in a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Owens needed a quality start to regain his confidence.

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It doesn’t hurt that Boston has the top catching prospect in all of baseball in Blake Swihart as the backstop managing the next wave of young Boston arms. Swihart is projected as the Red Sox’ starting catcher for the decade and knows how to manage a pitching staff.  Despite his own accolades, Swihart knows that he has to keep his pitchers dialed in so Pawtucket can win.

“Henry was awesome tonight. He established the fastball for strikes and threw his off-speed pitches off his fastball,” said Swihart to Swihart’s one-out RBI single in the top of the 13th inning gave Pawtucket the go-ahead run and victory.

Owens was dynamic versus the IronPigs, registering six strikeouts before leaving a changeup up in the zone to Franco.   Leaving his changeup up is an issue for Owens, but his propensity to walk hitters has been a bigger concern. In his first two seasons in the minors, Owens walked over four batters per nine innings in 48 games started.

Walks aside, Owens has been among the best pitchers in baseball.  After posting a 4.87 ERA in Class-A, he registered a sub-three ERA over the following two seasons. Drafted 36th overall in the 2011 Draft, Owens has quickly risen up the prospect rankings, considered by the 20th best prospect in baseball after a season where he won 17 games and posted a 2.94 ERA between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket.

Despite not having an overpowering fastball, Owens posted an impressive 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in Triple-A last season after a season where he averaged over a strikeout per inning in 121 innings in Double-A.  Even more impressive was his 2.84 walks per nine innings.

Owens’ pitching arsenal is also developing at a rate at which Boston should be pleased.  This spring he began throwing a slider, a pitch which he used on occasion on Saturday night.  Although there’s still work to be done in making it an adequate pitch, it gives the lefty another option to mix in with his fastball.

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With a fastball in the low 90s with late action with average command, Owens’ fastball isn’t elite, but is effective when he keeps in down in the zone.  His curveball is more varied as the velocity ranges from 70-76 mph and has a deep break.  Owens’ changeup is highly advanced for his age. With a velocity in the high 70s and a late drop, it’s the definition of a true out pitch.

"With such an advanced changeup, Owens has been working on his curveball this spring, telling “I realized probably 10 starts into Double-A that I was pitching above the competition so I started to try to shy away from changeup and focus on the curveball as much as I possibly could. There were some starts where I was throwing 50-50 and there were some starts where I was throwing it more than my changeup so I found that really helped in terms of my development”."

If Owens can continue to develop his curveball and harness his command, he could quickly find himself in the Red Sox rotation this season.  With competition in the form Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, and Eduardo Rodriguez, he’ll need to have prolonged success even with his natural progress.  The Red Sox can only hope to see him do so as he could eventually become a staple in their rotation for the next decade.