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Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens’ amazing Double-A debut; Xander Bogaerts stops streaking; Haley’s upward trajectory; Sean Coyle goes deep

08.04.13 at 12:45 pm ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens punched out a career-high 11 batters in his Double-A debut. (Salem Red Sox)

Left-hander Henry Owens punched out a career-high 11 batters in his Double-A debut. (Salem Red Sox)

A year ago, it might have been easy to look at the 4.87 ERA that left-hander Henry Owens put up in Single-A Greenville in his professional debut and shrug one’s shoulders. For a supplemental first-round pick, that sort of mark wasn’t exactly going to turn heads.

But that ERA was typically a reflection of just one bad inning over the course of otherwise strong outings. A truer reflection of his stuff could be found in his 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings, a mark that ranked among the best in all of the minors.

Owens, a stringy 6-foot-7 left-hander, entered the offseason determined to overcome the hiccup innings, feeling that getting stronger in his core would allow him to improve his stamina and avoid running down as the game wore on. He entered spring training at 205 pounds — up from 180 when he signed and 190 at the start of his time in Greenville — and the difference has been palpable, both over the course of individual games and the season.

“I really think last year was just partially to get my feet wet, learning the pro game,” Owens explained recently on Minor Details. “Last offseason, I put on weight, got stronger and coming into spring training, I felt like I really had a chance to show them what I’ve got this season. I’ve been able to do that so far, and hopefully I can keep that going.”

Indeed he has. Owens, who turned 21 last month, made a spectacular Double-A debut for Portland on Saturday night, punching out a career-high 11 batters (8 swinging) over six scoreless innings. He allowed four hits (two singles, two doubles), walked just two and got a colossal 19 swings and misses.

Though his fastball velocity (up to 92 mph) was less than it had been in his recent outings, he nonetheless got five swings and misses with it, along with seven each on his curveball (a pitch that has played up as a consistent secondary weapon for him in recent weeks) and changeup (his best pitch, a clear future swing-and-miss pitch in the majors). So, without his most powerful fastball, Owens was still able to command and mix his pitches well enough to dominate. Thus continued what has been a spectacular year for the left-hander.

On the year, he’s now 9-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings (among the top 10 in the minors among pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched). Opponents are hitting just .180 against him, the second lowest mark among all qualifying pitchers at full-season levels. Thanks to his improved pitch efficiency, in 21 starts, Owens has already thrown nine more innings (110 2/3) than he did in 23 games in his pro debut last year. His biggest area for potential improvement is clearly his control, as Owens has walked 4.5 batters per nine innings this year, but it’s becoming very obvious that the left-hander has the raw materials to become a linchpin of the Red Sox rotation.

For context, it’s worth comparing Owens’ age 20 season to that of the most prominent left-hander whom the Sox drafted out of high school, Jon Lester, taken by the Sox in the second round of the 2002 draft. Lester spent the entirety of his age 20 season with High-A Sarasota of the Florida State League, forging a 4.28 ERA with 9.7 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per nine innings. There were areas in which Lester was better than Owens at the same age — he did a better job of keeping the ball on the ground and in the park — but he didn’t achieve a level of sustainable dominance comparable to what Owens has been doing of late.

In Owens’ last five starts — at a time when he’s pushed past last year’s innings total — he’s 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA, 41 strikeouts and 16 walks in 32 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .107/.240/.126 line with no homers and just two doubles allowed.

The run, of course, includes a run of 19 1/3 innings in which he didn’t give up a hit for High-A Salem prior to his promotion to Portland. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in four of those five starts, including his first against Double-A opponents.

What that means going forward remains to be seen. But the evident promise for Owens is as immense as the pitcher himself.

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-3 LOSS AT BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)

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– Shortstop Xander Bogaerts went 0-for-5, concluding a streak of 30 consecutive contests in which he reached base by hit or walk. He’s hitting .276/.372/.471.

– Left-hander Franklin Morales was dominant, throwing 2 1/3 perfect innings with three strikeouts while throwing 18 of 26 pitches for strikes. In three rehab games, he’s now thrown 4 1/3 innings without allowing a baserunner, striking out six in the process.

– Outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker had his second three-hit game of the year, going 3-for-4 with a double. The 25-year-old is coming off of a rough July in which he hit .203/.217/.241 with just two walks and 26 strikeouts in 22 games.

– Right-hander Jose Contreras was roughed up for three runs on a walk and two hits (including a homer). He was once again pitching on four days’ rest, a schedule that he’s followed since getting to Pawtucket.

– Right-hander Charlie Haeger, starting on three days’ rest, allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings while striking out a season-high seven strikeouts and walking four. The 29-year-old knuckleballer is 2-2 with a 5.85 ERA in seven starts.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-1 WIN AT BOWIE (ORIOLES)

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– Catcher Christian Vazquez went 3-for-5 with a double. The 22-year-old has now reached base in 12 straight games, hitting .366/.447/.463 with five walks and five strikeouts in that time, improving his numbers for the year to .268/.362/.385. While he hasn’t shown the typical in-game power of a catcher, given that the American League average OBP for a catcher is .312, Vazquez’s on-base abilities suggest that there is a chance for him to deliver enough offense to forge a future spot as a regular given his outstanding defense behind the plate.

– First baseman Travis Shaw homered for the second time in as many games, going 1-for-4 with his 15th longball of the year and a walk. He now has 10 homers in 32 games since June 27, most in the Eastern League in that time. The 23-year-old has elevated his slugging percentage by 50 points in that time, from .363 to .413. He’s hitting .229 with a .339 OBP.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-0 WIN AT LYNCHBURG (BRAVES)

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– Right-hander Mike Augliera was spectacular, tossing seven shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit while punching out four and walking one. On the year, the 2012 fifth-rounder out of Binghamton now has a 4.04 ERA, but he’s shown flashes of excellence, with three appearances of seven or more shutout innings in his last six starts.

– Outfielder Keury De La Cruz went 2-for-4 with a double, but the extra-base hit production has been down for the 21-year-old in the second half. He’s hitting .266/.324/.386 with 11 extra-base hits in 39 second-half games, compared to a .288/.317/.447 line with 31 extra-base hits in 68 first-half games.

– Catcher Blake Swihart had his third straight multi-hit game, going 2-for-4. Over his current eight-game hitting streak, the 21-year-old is hitting .424/.472/.515.

SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 6-3 LOSS VS. SAVANNAH (METS)

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– Right-hander Justin Haley tossed six innings in which he allowed two runs on three hits and three walks while matching a season-high with eight punchouts. After his early-season struggles that resulted in a move to the bullpen, Haley has been tremendous over a 12-start stretch. The 2012 sixth-rounder has a 2.74 ERA with a .216/.323/.288 line, 58 strikeouts and 36 walks in his last 65 2/3 innings. Control has remained something of an issue, but he’s made huge strides during this run in which he’s walked 4.9 per nine innings as compared to his first seven starts of the year, in which he walked 9.7 per nine innings with a 6.58 ERA.

– Outfielder Aneury Tavarez had his fourth straight two-hit game, and his third with a homer, going 2-for-4 with his seventh longball of the year. He’s showing the ability to impact the ball (hitting .310 with a .571 slugging mark in his last 10 games) despite a swing-at-everything approach that has resulted in 19 straight games without a walk.

SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 4-1 WIN VS. BATAVIA (MARLINS)

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– Left-hander Corey Littrell continued his strong work in his pro debut. The 2013 fifth-rounder tossed three shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit while striking out two and walking none. In his first six pro starts, he has a 0.68 ERA with 13 strikeouts and six walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Outfielder Aaron King had been struggling after a strong start, going 2-for-30 with 17 strikeouts and just one walk in his prior eight games entering Saturday. But the 24-year-old, who has converted from his career as a pitcher in the Giants system to an outfielder with the Sox this year, showed a good approach in going 1-for-2 with a double, two walks and, for the first time in his 27 games in Lowell, no strikeouts. He’s hitting .253/.321/.343 for the Spinners.

ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 10-8 LOSS AT GCL TWINS

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– Second baseman Sean Coyle, still on the DL for High-A Salem, had what was easily the best game of his rehab assignment in the GCL, going 1-for-3 with a homer and two walks. In just 42 minor league games this year, the 21-year-old still has 11 homers, an indication that he has plenty of pop both for his position and size (he’s listed at 5-foot-8). If he is able to control the strike zone and his swing and miss rate, then he projects as an everyday second baseman, but both of those traits remain in some question for a player who has struck out in 24 percent of his career plate appearances in the lower levels.

– First-rounder Trey Ball made his second appearance in the GCL, a two-inning outing in which he allowed his first earned run on two hits (including a solo homer), walked none and struck out two.

Nick Longhi, 17, collected his first professional hits since the Red Sox signed the 30th rounder away from LSU. Longhi went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, a strikeout and a steal. He’s 2-for-13 with three strikeouts in five games. Though signed as an outfielder, Saturday marked his second game at first base.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 4-2 LOSS VS DSL ROYALS

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– Right-hander Jose Almonte allowed four runs, but all were unearned in a three-inning outing in which he gave up three hits, walked one and punched out two. For the year, the 17-year-old has a 2.18 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 20 walks in 41 1/3 innings, holding opponents to a .197 average.

Read More: christian vazquez, franklin morales, henry owens, Justin Haley Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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