The Boston Red Sox have placed extra emphasis in rebuilding their farm system in recent years to serve as a feeder for their major league team. Although only the most elite young players develop into future major leaguers, pitching prospect Henry Owens is starting to look like he may be a star.
The 20-year-old left-hander was a supplemental first-round draft choice (36th-overall pick) of the Red Sox in 2011 out of high school in Edison, California.
The last time the team drafted a high school pitcher in the first or supplemental rounds was in 1997, when they took left-hander John Curtice with the 17th pick.
Boston lured the youngster out of a commitment to play ball for the University of Miami by giving him a $1.55 million signing bonus, according to WEEI’s Ryan Hannable.
Owens was dominant as a high school senior, going 12-1 with a 1.15 ERA.
SoxProspects.com describes his repertoire as a low-90s fastball, sharp curve (with plus or better potential) and a changeup.
It’s believed he can improve the velocity of his fastball by adding some muscle to his lanky 6’7” frame.
Left-handed, obviously first off, he's a guy we project to be a middle-of-the-rotation guy. He throws three pitches for strikes. Advanced pitchability. A guy who has the ability to command his breaking ball and throw a changeup. For a high school kid, that's unique and certainly something that we covet.
Owens’ high school coach, Steve Lambright, told Hannable how much he he was impressed by the pitcher’s ability to perform well through the intense scrutiny of the draft process:
There were 50 scouts one game, I kid you not. There were 15-30 per game, and we were in constant contact with the scouts. It was pretty hectic because he was who they were there for. He got better as the season went on, his velocity went up.
He was the most positive player on the team. He is very easygoing and always telling jokes. Off the field when he isn’t pitching he is always loose-goosey and has an easy going mentality. I am amazed as a coach that he can do that. He has a good balance of life and he gets it.
Owens had an excellent pro debut in 2012. He spent the entire season with Single-A Greenville and went 12-5 with a 4.87 ERA in 23 games (22 starts) with 130 strikeouts in 101.2 innings.
He escaped serious injury last June, when a screaming line drive hit him above the eye during a game, shattering a pair of glasses he was wearing. Fortunately, he missed only one start and suffered no lasting ill effects from the incident.
His strong first season sent him rocketing up prospect charts. Baseball America's J.J. Cooper ranked him as the 91st-best prospect in the game entering spring training.
WEEI’s Alex Speier reported how Owens recently turned heads by hitting 95 mph for the first time in his career and striking out 13 of the 15 batters he faced in an intrasquad game. One impressed scout was quoted as saying they had “never seen anything like it at the professional level.”
Owens generated 27 swings and misses, along with a nearly unhittable changeup.
After the game, Owens was ecstatic about his results, telling Speier, “That’s the hardest I’ve ever thrown consistently. My velocity has been going up in March. It’s good to see the offseason workouts paying off.”
Unlike many young pitchers, Owens realizes that to be successful he needs to hone all of his pitches instead of simply trying to throw the ball past every hitter, as he explained to MiLB.com’s Bill Ballew:
Early in the year  I was probably trying to strike too many guys out and overpower guys. I don't throw 98, so I'm not going to be able to overpower batters with my fastball. I've learned that 90 at the knees is better than 93 or 94 at the waist.
SoxProspects.com expects Owens to start the 2013 season at Advanced Single-A Salem. Given his limited experience, he’ll likely spend the entire year there, but fans shouldn’t be surprised if he also gets a taste of Double-A.
He may still be raw, but the southpaw is young and has the potential for three pitches that could be average or better, making him a tantalizing starting pitching prospect. The Red Sox will be watching carefully as he continues developing and discovers the scope of his full potential.
The foundation of a winning baseball team lies in its pitching. Owens should generate a lot of excitement because, if everything goes right, he could be a cornerstone of Boston’s future.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference