There was a time when things could have been different, an inflection point where the universe could have veered in either direction. Who knows why the path chosen was chosen, why things are the way they are? But it was and for whatever reason or, more likely, a million different reasons, we are here, and here Henry Owens is terrible.
At one point, that being before the 2015 season, Owens was a top 20 prospect, the next great Red Sox starting pitcher, coming up behind such luminaries as Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz, and…did I mention Clay Buchholz? Owens was a gangly six-foot-six with a fastball that could break a pane of glass, assuming that glass wasn’t very thick. He never had great command — or control, for that matter — but what made it all work was the Greatest Changeup Ever Thrown. It appeared to be Owens’ mediocre-at-best fastball, but then, midway to the plate, it stopped and went straight downward. There it dug a hole into the ground and tunneled beneath the plate and up to the catcher. It was unhittable and hitters appropriately responded by not hitting it. It was that pitch that racked up the strikeouts, especially in the low minors, and brought him up up through the system to Boston for his first major league start as a 22-year-old.
Owens made 11 starts for the Red Sox at the end of the lost season of 2015, holding his own in the process. There were warts visible for sure, but with refinement, especially to his command, it wasn’t hard to see him as a number two starter. It never happened, and in fact, what happened instead was the opposite. Owens command got worse. He was always able to get a few strikeouts but the walks were creeping up and up, into an area unacceptable for a major league pitcher.
That’s where things stood entering the 2017 season.
What Went Right
In a macro sense, nothing. Well, okay, Owens didn’t get hurt, which I suppose is a good place to be when you are a pitcher, but beyond that, everything was pretty much awful for Owens in 2017. He started the year in Triple-A as a 24-year-old, which is fine, though if you’ll recall from a few paragraphs ago, Owens was in Boston as a 22-year-old. That’s not a lot of progress in two seasons. Still, Triple-A is only one rung below the majors. Then the 2017 season started and that concludes What Went Right. Meet me below in the What Went Wrong section for the conclusion to Henry Owens season and his time with the Red Sox.
What Went Wrong
Unlike Triple-A, Double-A is not a rung below the majors, so when Owens was sent there following 69 innings in Pawtucket, it was not a good sign. It was, however, a bit odd considering his numbers. Owens had pitched to a sub-4.00 ERA and was striking out 9.4 per nine innings, all of which are good. However he was also walking 7.8 per nine, and really that only gets to the start of it. Owens command was gone and the Red Sox, tired of seeing him nibble and walk hitter after hitter, tried to shake things up. Things were shaken up, but they did not improve in Double-A where Owens’ K rate went south and his walk rate went north.
Things got so bad that the Red Sox gave up on the idea of Owens as a starter and altered his arm slot in order to make him a sidearming lefty specialist reliever. That didn’t work during the year, so Boston sent him to the Arizona Fall League where things just generally were bad. Walks, few strikeouts, lots of runs allowed, all of it ugh. That was the last straw.
The Red Sox cut Owens from his perch on the 40-man roster and Arizona picked him up. Bye-bye, Henry.
What To Expect
As far as the Red Sox are concerned, there’s nothing to expect. His Red Sox career is finished. For Arizona, Owens is a nice free flyer on a guy who was, at one point in the not too distant past, considered talented. Owens will be 25 this season so perhaps he can find his changeup again and rekindle his flickering-at-best career. In and odd way, a thing he has going for him is his size. It can take very tall pitchers extra seasons to figure out how to repeat their mechanics, something Owens always had difficulty doing. Maybe changing organizations will help Owens. It can’t hurt.
It’s a shame that Owens was never able to find the most basic level of command because his changeup was devastating and the Red Sox sure could use another young pitcher to help at the major league level. Maybe in an alternative universe the Red Sox were able to unlock Owens’ potential and he’s slated for a rotation spot headed into 2018, but in this, the extremely crappy universe we live in, they weren’t. And now Owens is elsewhere and the Red Sox are where they always seem to be, up a creek without a paddle when it comes to developing starting pitching. Maybe this is a trend the team can begin to buck with Jay Groome and now Tanner Houck. You’d hope so. An organization can only coast on having developed Lester and Buchholz for so long.
Photo by Jonathan Dyer – USA TODAY Sports