In this edition of Fenway’s Future, we’ll discuss Henry Owens’ command issues, Pat Light’s resurgence, Manny Margot’s patience and more.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Henry Owens, LHP
Henry Owens has gotten off to a slow start at Pawtucket this year. Dominant for most of his minor league career, this is one of the first rough stretches since his up-and-down first season in the minors just out of high school. Over his last two seasons, he struck out 10.4 batters per nine, with ERAs under three across three levels. One concern early in his career was control, as he walked more than four an inning in his first two seasons in the system. However, last year he cut that rate to 3.3 walks per nine between Portland and Pawtucket. So far this year, that rate has spiked to 7.3 through his first four starts.
In his start last Wednesday, those control and command troubles were evident again. He walked just three, but one was to the leadoff hitter in the first that ended up scoring a run and another was to the number nine hitter on four pitches. He battled command within the zone on the evening, especially with the fastball, which sits in the range of 87-91 mph and needs to be located well in order for his plus changeup to play off of it. The changeup did live up to the billing though, as he made several hitters look silly on big whiffs against it.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Owens’ night was the use of a slider for the first time in his career, starting this season. He said afterwards that he threw two in this particular outing, and it is clearly a raw pitch early in its development. It was in the high-70s in this outing, similar in speed to his changeup. With his curveball also generally coming in in the 70s, the slider may be more effective if he can throw it in the low-80s to complement the rest of his arsenal better. With a pitcher who can manipulate the ball like Owens, the pitch could develop quickly and become a strong component of his arsenal. On the other hand, it may end up as a show-me fourth pitch or scrapped altogether.
Double-A Portland: Pat Light, RHP
With a dearth of high-level talent currently in Portland, particularly in the lineup, Pat Light’s performance out of the bullpen has stood out. This is his first year being converted to the bullpen full time, and though there have been a couple bumps, the results have been extremely encouraging for the 2012 supplemental first-rounder who had a tough go of it in the minors as a starter. Since he was drafted scouts have been predicting an ultimate move to the bullpen, but the Red Sox like to keep pitchers in the rotation as long as possible to help develop their stuff. With the results he was posting as a starter though (4.83 ERA, 5.2 K/9 last season), it made sense to make the move now.
In his last three outings spanning 4 1/3 innings, he did not allow a hit and struck out seven, boosting his K/9 rate to an impressive 12.2 mark on the season. He has a 4.05 ERA overall, but only allowed runs in two of his seven appearances (three runs in each game) and has a 0.975 WHIP. Part of his success can be attributed to his use of the splitter, a pitch that he had all but shelved since college, but has been his main secondary out of the bullpen this year. Though his fastball is hard in the mid-90s, it can be on the straight side, and can be hit hard when not located well.
High-A Salem: Manuel Margot, CF
Margot struck out for the first time this season on Wednesday of last week. The 20-year-old center fielder had gone his first 16 games and 69 plate appearances without punching out prior to that. However, despite picking up his first two strikeouts this week, his season line now rests at .312/.368/.481 with 10 stolen bases on 12 attempts to go along with a homer and three triples. With the strong performance to start the season and tools to back it up, he seems to have solidified himself as the third-ranked prospect in the system, behind only Blake Swihart and Yoan Moncada. He is a true five-tool talent, with a high floor due to his strong center field defense, speed and athleticism. He also has the power in his bat to average perhaps around 15 home runs a year, and scouts like his overall knack for the game. He will look to improve upon his selectivity and plate approach, but he is well-ahead of the age curve at the High-A level, so that is to be expected. Margot’s name may come up more often in trade rumors with the strong performance, as he already has in relation to Cole Hamels. He could make an interesting piece for Philadelphia if they come off of their demands for Boston’s elite young, major league-ready talent.
Low-A Greenville: Ty Buttrey, RHP
Ty Buttrey received a promotion to Salem this week, and made his first High-A start on Sunday. Buttrey received an over-slot bonus as a high schooler in 2012, and had yet to live up to expectations. Last season, he got off to a late start due to injury, and missed time in June as well, but struggled in his 11 starts in Greenville, posting a 6.85 ERA and 1.804 WHIP, inflated by a 4.7 walk per nine rate. This season has been a complete turnaround though, as he’s lowered his WHIP and walk rate to 0.909 and 1.2, respectively, resulting in a 2.45 ERA over his first four starts. In the month of April, he was one of the most productive pitchers in the entire Red Sox system. He struck out seven batters over five hitless innings in his last start with Greenville before the promotion. In his first start for Salem on Sunday, Buttrey’s control troubles resurfaced as he walked six over five innings, including three in the third when he allowed the only three runs of the outing. An adjustment period is to be expected, though. The tall right-hander is projectable, but prior to this season results and scouting looks have not been overly impressive. He will look to build momentum towards fulfilling draft expectations this season.
Photos by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.smugmug.com