Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Ever since being drafted out of high school in 2011, Henry Owens has been on the radar of many a prospect-hugging Red Sox fan. His youth, advanced feel for pitching and strong early performances down in the minors led many to keep an eye on Owens’ progress from day one. And by the end of the 2014 campaign, the tall left-hander had risen all the way to Triple-A off the back of strong strikeout numbers and a widely praised changeup.
With the Red Sox rotation in shambles last season, Owens got his chance once the second half rolled around, making his big-league debut on August 4 against the Yankees. Owens would go on to make 11 starts down the stretch for Boston, and while he didn’t lock down a place in the club’s rotation, he showed flashes of that intriguing talent. However, where Owens goes from here and how much of his potential the team is able to unlock in the coming years are questions that remain unanswered.
What Went Right in 2015
Although his overall results don’t look impressive at first glance, Owens does have some positives to build on from his first major league campaign. He finished with a 4.57 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 18.4% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate over 63 innings pitched. Most encouragingly, Owens showed he could generate swings and misses with frequency, recording a 12.2% swinging-strike rate that would have ranked among the top starters in MLB if he had the innings to qualify. Indeed, as Alex Speier wrote during the season, Owens’ knack for limiting contact put him in some pretty exclusive company last summer.
In addition, Owens’ changeup proved to be the same type of dominant weapon it was in the minors. The 23-year-old used the offering 23.9% of the time in the big leagues and held opponents to a .222 average against the pitch. Owens’ changeup was key to his ability to garner strikeouts, moreover, with the offering yielding a 23% whiff rate and a 44% whiff per swing rate, the highest of all his pitches, according to Brooks Baseball.
What Went Wrong in 2015
Inconsistent command has long been Owens’ biggest stumbling block, and that continued during his time in the majors. Owens hands out his fair share of free passes (he walked at least four hitters in four separate outings), though his tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone is perhaps more worrisome. When Owens fails to keep his fastball down, big league hitters demonstrated that they can take advantage of his middling velocity. Boston’s young lefty will have to be far sharper with his command against MLB competition in a way he rarely was down in the minors.
In fact, improving his overall consistency will be the main objective for Owens moving forward. On a couple of occasions, he showed the capacity to dominate major league lineups with his advanced four-pitch mix and deception (most notably in an eight-inning, one-run effort against the Royals), but he was also knocked around plenty as well. Finding ways to battle through outings when he doesn’t have his best stuff will be vital for Owens.
Outlook for 2016
What Owens needs – steady reps against MLB hitters – could be hard to come by in 2016. With Joe Kelly expected to fill the No. 5 spot in the team’s rotation, Owens is likely to begin the year in Triple-A. Yet how much he will actually benefit from more time down in the minors is uncertain.
There’s plenty to like about Owens, and he certainly has the raw ingredients to turn into a capable starter. Nevertheless, he also has a fair deal of development ahead of him, and he’d be best served doing so against competition that will force him to tighten that shaky command.
If any injuries strike the starting staff, Owens will likely be the first in line to fill in for the Red Sox. This coming season will be a big one for Owens, and could provide the type of platform from which to start a successful career if he gets enough opportunities. Whether that career ends up blossoming in Boston or somewhere else is a question yet to be answered.
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