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Stranger than fiction: Jaw-dropping outing for Red Sox prospect Henry Owens

03.25.13 at 6:03 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — For a day, at least, Jackie Bradley Jr. did not generate the biggest bit of prospect buzz in the Red Sox organization. On Sunday, even though the 22-year-old outfielder hit a homer against left-hander Cliff Lee as part of a four RBI day, he took a backseat to another performance that was the most outrageous of the spring by anyone in the organization.

Here are a few breathless depictions by talent evaluators of the outing by left-hander Henry Owens in an intrasquad game:

“Like a videogame.”

“Silly.”

“Stupid.”

“Toying with the hitters.”

“Stuff that would have played at any level.”

“Never seen anything like it at the professional level.”

So, what got the hype machine buzzing? Owens, facing Red Sox hitters who are expected to open the year in Single-A, faced 15 batters. What happened?

One groundball.

One flare to right for a single (“He had him struck out, but the ump missed a two-strike pitch,” said one observer)

No walks

Thirteen strikeouts

Or, more accurately: THIRTEEN! STRIKEOUTS!

The left-hander was asked to confirm those facts, which sound more familiar to Sidd Finch than a professional baseball player.

“Yeah,” he started laughing with a shake of his head. “Yeah.”

Was it like pitching in a video game? A brief visit into the Matrix? An out-of-body experience?

“I don’t know what it felt like, man, but it felt good,” said the pitcher.

Obviously, Owens’ line is qualified at least in part by the fact that he was playing against relatively low competition. Even so, the idea of having that sort of day against any collection of professional hitters is hard to fathom. It is the sort of dominance that more typically characterizes a matchup of a top high school prospect (which Owens was, having been named California State High School Player of the Year as a senior) against an inferior opponent — only Owens couldn’t ever recall such singularity of one-sided outcomes while he was a prep star.

“I had some good games in high school,” said Owens, “but not one like that.”

Owens, who added roughly 14 pounds of muscle this offseason and now — after signing at 181 pounds — is at approximately 205, threw his fastball at 92-93 mph, mixing in some 94s and even, for the first time in his career, touching 95 mph once. (Scouting grade on the 20-80 scale: a 60, though it played as more of a 70.)

“I’d get ahead with my fastball and they’d foul off my two-seamer,” said Owens. “That was the hardest I’ve ever thrown consistently. My velocity has been going up this March. It’s good to see the offseason workouts paying off.”

He showed a sharp curveball. (Scouting grade: 50.) And, he showed an outrageous changeup that one observer characterized (perhaps thanks in part to a wall of wind) as being akin to a Wiffle ball. (Scouting grade: 70.)

In his outing, the 6-foot-7 southpaw had 27 swings and misses — with the breakdown being something like 17 on fastballs, three on curves and seven on changeups. The sight of all three of Owens’ offerings working at such a high level — particularly on a day when he didn’t walk anyone — is the sort of stuff that suggests top-of-the-rotation potential.

There is a big gap, however, between top-of-the-rotation potential and a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues, particularly for a 20-year-old who just completed his first full pro season. Owens spent all of last year in Single-A Greenville. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched last year (he logged 101 2/3), he led the minors with 11.51 strikeouts per nine innings and finished the year with a 4.87 ERA and 4.16 walks per nine innings, along with 10 homers permitted. There was a lot to like — most notably his swings and misses — but also room for growth with both his command and his ability to get bad contact.

Certainly, early spring signs suggest the potential to build upon what was a very strong first full pro year (made all the stronger by the fact that Owens was among the youngest pitchers in the South Atlantic League in 2012). His velocity bump is one indicator. His improved control is another — he’s changed his fastball grip slightly, and since then, he’s thrown nine innings without issuing a walk.

The No. 36 overall pick in the 2011 draft will head this year to High-A Salem of the Carolina League, where he will face some more advanced college position players. Still, the early signs this spring suggest that the left-hander has a chance to be a breakout prospect in the Sox system.

Just don’t expect him to have another performance like the one he had on Sunday.

“I try and go out every single outing and perform like that,” said Owens, “but I’m a human being so it’s not going to happen.”

Read More: henry owens, sidd finch,
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