Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Henry Owens Hype Train

Photo By Kelly O'Connor
In a rain shortened six inning game last night the Portland Sea Dogs defeated the Reading Phillies by a final of 5-0 to open their 2014 season.  The big news just happens to be prospect Henry Owens looked dominant and completed the game without allowing a single hit.  Now that's not officially a "no-hitter", but certainly a great start to his 2014 season and more reason to get excited about the towering prospect.

In the six innings last night Owens had nine strikeouts to go with only two walks.  The strikeout total is what he does best, but walks are what Owens has struggled with.  A two walk total over six innings is actually an improvement for him as he normally throws one walk every two innings in his pro career so far.  This is the number we should be watching every night when Owens starts.  His walks were also contained to the first inning and he went right at the hitters after that.

Looking deeper we can see he threw 59 strikes in 86 pitches for a 68 percent rate of strikes.  Very impressive for a pitcher known to have control questions.  He won't be that high every night (since only one pitcher last year hit that level for a whole season), but getting off on the right foot could raise confidence he could control those numbers in the majors.

While we talk a lot about walk rate and how important it is it's often the last thing for some pitchers to learn and is the difference between Daniel Bard and Randy Johnson.  Both could strike out 10 or more batters every nine innings, but while Johnson had terrible control in the minors and even his MLB career start was rocky with BB/9 numbers from six all the way to 8 at Double-A.

Here is my disclaimer: Owens is not going to be Johnson. He does not have the same velocity and that will limit him to a ceiling of a number two starter.  That said he needs to do the same things to grow into his body and here is a good explanation from Marc Hulet in the Fangraphs 2014 Red Sox Prospect guide:

The highly-projectable Owens is all arms and legs, which gives him deception, but also leads to command/control issues. Like with a lot of tall, young pitchers it may take time for the pitcher to train himself to repeat his delivery on a consistent basis.
The road to the majors will be completely decided on Owens control and walk numbers.  If he can keep a walk rate around three as he did tonight he will be moving on to Triple-A sooner rather than later.  It will also be interesting to see what his ground ball numbers look like as tonight he had 4 ground outs against and no fly outs.  If he can strikeout this many hitters, get a ground ball number above 40 percent and walk less than one batter every three innings we should be very familiar with Owens in Boston in the very near future.

*It's a bit tough to take seriously a team (Reading) that leads off the first inning by bunting for an out and then also bunts for an out again in the third.

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