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Jim Callis: Blake Swihart the most difficult Red Sox prospect to part with 07.29.14 at 1:45 pm ET
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Blake Swihart has 12 homers in Double-A Portland this year. (365digitalphotography.com)

Blake Swihart has 12 homers in Double-A Portland this year. (365digitalphotography.com)

It’s a hectic time for the shaping of the Red Sox. The team is currently in sell mode, with the possibility of dealing any number of key veterans such as Jon Lester and John Lackey. At the same time, the Sox are no doubt in the early stages of contemplating how they’re going to address some of their pressing needs for 2015, whether beefing up the middle of the order or identifying a starting pitcher who could serve as a replacement for Lester should he not be with the team in 2015.

That, in turn, has created scenarios in which the Sox could both sell (parting with players slated to reach free agency after this year) and buy (adding long-term assets). For instance, could a team that has an organizational commitment to limiting the risk associated with long-term deals let Lester walk (or trade him, as the case may be) rather than signing him to a five- or six-year deal at, say, $24 million a year, and instead seek to trade for a pitcher like Cole Hamels who is essentially Lester’s age (Hamels, 30, is less than a month older than Lester), but whose contract guarantee would count as just a four-year, $96 million commitment for luxury tax purposes? In essence, doing so would have the Sox acquiring prospects for Lester and trading other prospects away in order to avoid one or two years at roughly the same AAV that Hamels would be receiving.

The Sox would certainly appear to have the trade chips to acquire Hamels, certainly. As Jim Callis of MLB.com noted in this podcast (on whether WEEI.com and/or the baseball industry overrates Red Sox prospects), the Sox might have the best catching prospect (Blake Swihart), the best left-handed pitching prospect (Henry Owens) and the best second base prospect (Mookie Betts) in the game. That permits flexibility to strike a deal. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: blake swihart, Cole Hamels, giancarlo stanton, henry owens
Red Sox minor league roundup: Will Middlebrooks’ power showcase; Henry Owens not stagnating in Double-A; Trey Ball’s breakthrough stretch? 07.20.14 at 3:37 pm ET
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Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens won his minor league-leading 13th game on Saturday. (AP)

Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens won his minor league-leading 13th game on Saturday. (AP)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Saturday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-1 WIN VS. BUFFALO (BLUE JAYS)

(BOX)

– Third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 2-for-4 with a solo homer to center. It was nearly Middlebrooks’ second homer in as many days (he was robbed of a homer by a tremendous leaping catch on Friday).

For now, Middlebrooks will continue to enjoy steady playing time in Pawtucket. But with the crowd that the Sox have on the left side of their infield between the big leagues (Stephen Drew, Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt) and Triple-A (Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero), teams are closely monitoring the situation to see if the Sox start dealing what seems like surplus inventory from their minor league prospect pool.

– DH Carlos Rivero reached base in all four plate appearances, going 2-for-2 with a homer and two walks. He is 8-for-12 with two walks in his last three games.

– Right-hander Brandon Workman tossed five shutout innings, allowing three hits and two walks while punching out six. He struggled with his control at times (59 of 99 pitches for strikes — a 60 percent rate) but shut down his opponents by getting a handful of groundball outs to complement his six punchouts.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 10-3 WIN AT NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS)

(BOX) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: henry owens, Trey Ball, Will Middlebrooks,
Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens throws scoreless inning in All-Star Futures Game 07.13.14 at 6:10 pm ET
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Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens threw a scoreless inning in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday. (AP)

Red Sox left-hander Henry Owens threw a scoreless inning in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday. (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — Hours before his start in the All-Star Futures Game, left-hander Henry Owens had a message.

“Tune in to the first pitch tonight,” Owens chuckled. “Maybe I’ll make a point.”

That point came in the form of a game-opening 70 mph curveball to Blue Jays outfield prospect Dalton Pompey. Though the pitch was a ball, Owens wanted to make a point. The left-hander is aware of suggestions that he’s primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher whose success occurs in the absence of a reliable curveball. And so that first pitch of the game was one of a number of curves he threw over the course of a scoreless inning in which he gave up an infield single, retired Pompey by a line out to left, got Francisco Lindor to bounce to Owens’ Portland teammate, Sean Coyle and punctuated his outing by getting Kennys Vargas to strike out swinging on a changeup. His fastball registered at 89-92 mph and his changeup elicited both of his swings and misses among his 19 pitches (12 strikes).

But the willingness to use a curve had a little bit of an edge for the Red Sox’ top pitching prospect.

“My curveball, I’ve always believed in. I don’t know if someone else didn’t. I get it — I throw a lot of change ups — but my curveball, I’m kind of overusing it in my starts now, trying to prove a point,” Owens explained before his outing. “I’ve used it a lot more [in 2014]. It’s developed. I’ve gotten a greater feel. Even the four days in between, I’m throwing it more playing catch, throwing it more in the bullpens and it’s really helped me out so far. … [The point he's making is for] anyone who doesn’t think I have one. Anyone who just thinks I have a changeup and a fastball.”

Owens’ curve was the last addition to his arsenal when he was growing up. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league roundup: Three years later, Henry Owens keeps checking all the boxes; Pawtucket trade candidates; Trey Ball showing signs 07.07.14 at 1:56 pm ET
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Henry Owens was a lanky left-hander who nonetheless convinced the Sox to use a first-round pick on him in 2011. (Gregg Forwerck / Courtesy Team USA Baseball)

Henry Owens was a lanky left-hander who nonetheless convinced the Sox to use a first-round pick on him in 2011. (Gregg Forwerck / Courtesy Team USA Baseball)

Over the last dozen years, the Red Sox have rarely dedicated their earliest picks to high school pitchers. The team did it with its top selection in 2002, drafting Jon Lester with its first overall pick (a second-round selection), but after that, the instances of taking a pitcher with a first- or sandwich-round pick were few.

Entering 2011, the Sox had used a first- or supplemental first-round selection on a high school pitcher just three times. There was Michael Bowden in the supplemental first round in 2005, Caleb Clay in the supplemental first round in 2006 and Casey Kelly in the first round of the 2008 draft. That was it for the first eight Red Sox drafts under GM Theo Epstein, during which the Sox had 19 picks in that top round of the draft, and there was a reason.

“High school pitching, our approach was we wanted to have really high standards in some areas that were important to us because the bust rate is so high with high school pitching,” Epstein explained this weekend on the Minor Details podcast. “We felt like if we were going to miss on high school pitching, let’s at least miss on somebody who checks all of our boxes, who does the things that we think, through a lot of trial and error and a lot of collective wisdom, does the things that we feel are really important.

“With high school pitching, it wasn’t enough to just have a good arm or to have a swing-and-miss pitch. We really wanted size, projectability, athleticism, makeup, command of the fastball, some movement or other swing-and-miss quality to the fastball, we wanted to see the present ability to spin the baseball and not just projection, we wanted to see feel for a changeup, we wanted to see intelligence and acumen, we wanted to see work ethic, we wanted the arm to work well, we wanted to have a certain kind of arm action, we needed to see ease in the delivery and a repeatable delivery, a delivery that worked. We had a long checklist that we looked for in high school pitching. That’s why we didn’t take much pitching at the top of the draft, and you’ll notice that the Cubs don’t either. It’s a rare pitcher that can check a lot of those boxes.”

But Owens checked enough of them to convince the Sox: This was the high school arm worth a pick, at a time when a lot of high-ceiling talent remained on the board.

“Owens was not one to immediately wow you with his stuff, but the closer you looked at him, you realized he did check a lot of the boxes. He was a really gangly kid, huge kid but very skinny who had massive feet and massive hands, and really showed command beyond his years. He showed the ability to spin the ball, even though it was a really soft curveball at the time, the ball spun well, had the changeup, was able to locate his fastball. He threw better, probably, on the showcase circuit the summer before than he did his senior year in high school.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: henry owens, mike carp, Ryan Roberts, Trey Ball
Red Sox minor league roundup: Why this year is another Henry Owens breakthrough; Trey Ball gets on track; Rubby De La Rosa rocked in return 07.02.14 at 12:06 pm ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens became the first 11-game winner in the minors on Tuesday. (365DigitalPhotography.com)

Left-hander Henry Owens became the first 11-game winner in the minors on Tuesday. (365DigitalPhotography.com)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Tuesday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-3 LOSS VS. DURHAM (RAYS)

(BOX)

Rubby De La Rosa gave up as many runs — four — in his first inning back in Triple-A as he did in any of his five big league starts this year. Yet after three singles (none well struck), a double, a wild pitch and a sac fly spotted his opponents to four runs in the first inning, the right-hander settled to allow one run over the duration of his outing, ultimately pitching 5 2/3 innings in which he gave up five runs on eight hits (including a double and solo homer) with one walk and four strikeouts. De La Rosa threw 62 of his 97 pitches for strikes (64 percent) while getting a ton of mis-hits and groundballs (several of which became groundball singles).

– Center fielder Corey Brown wasn’t initially in the lineup, but ended up playing the game when Andres Torres was a late scratch. He opened the top of the first with a leadoff homer, his first of two home runs on the day, giving the 28-year-old a dozen homers this season, including three in his last two games. Though he’s hit for power, Brown has otherwise struggled, hitting .206 with a .275 OBP (along with a .413 slugging mark).

Will Middlebrooks resumed his rehab assignment by going 1-for-3 with an opposite field triple to right. He served as DH on Tuesday, but will progress back to third base. At some point during the rehab assignment, the Sox hope to give Middlebrooks some time in left field.

Mike Carp went 0-for-3 in the fourth game of his rehab assignment, and he’s now 1-for-11 with three strikeouts since joining the PawSox.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-4 WIN AT TRENTON (YANKEES)

(BOX)

– Left-hander Henry Owens wasn’t dominant, but he worked through some traffic to limit his opponents to two runs on seven hits (six singles and a double) while walking two and punching out five to become the first 11-game winner in the minors this year. Moreover, the two runs that Trenton scored against him were the byproduct of a rally that started with back-to-back infield singles, so the bad contact and mis-hit groundballs that Owens elicited could have easily resulted in a far more impressive line.

Indeed, one of the breakthroughs made by Owens this year has been his ability to keep the ball on the ground. Based on the data at the spectacular MLBFarm.com, here’s the distribution of contact against Owens this year: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: henry owens, Trey Ball, victor acosta,
Red Sox minor league roundup: Garin Cecchini isn’t sweating numbers; Henry Owens’ Double-A tenure nearing an end?; Sean Coyle’s outrageous run; Manuel Margot’s five-tool breakthrough 06.25.14 at 12:01 pm ET
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Garin Cecchini has seen his walk rate fall and his strikeout rate rise in Triple-A this year. (AP)

Garin Cecchini has seen his walk rate fall and his strikeout rate rise in Triple-A this year. (AP)

A look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Tuesday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 9-6 LOSS VS. NORFOLK (ORIOLES)

(BOX)

Garin Cecchini, back at third base with Will Middlebrooks missing a second straight game, went 2-for-5 with a triple. It was his first multi-hit game and extra-base hit since June 10.

Cecchini’s numbers this year are surprisingly modest. One year after he tore up High-A and Double-A at a .322/.443/.471 clip that included 47 extra-base hits and more walks (94) than strikeouts (86) en route to the best OBP among full-season minor leaguers, the 23-year-old is hitting just .263 with a .340 OBP and .333 slugging mark along with 11 extra-base hits through 66 games.

After striking out in 15.4 percent of plate appearances a year ago, Cecchini has fanned in 21.9 percent of trips to the dish this year. His walk rate has plummeted from 16.9 percent a year ago to 9.4 percent this year. By virtually any measure, it’s difficult to view his performance this year as anything but a significant dropoff from last year.

Yet evaluators who have seen Cecchini in Pawtucket insist that he continues to have quality plate appearances, and believe that the numbers will eventually follow suit. Cecchini likewise said that he’s comfortable with the fact that he’s been able to hold his own while on something of a player development fast track that has earned him big league callups twice.

“The numbers don’t lie. At the same time, I don’t even know what the average age is up there, but I’m one of the youngest guys [in Pawtucket],” said Cecchini. “Just to have some sort of success against guys that have been to the big leagues and learning the adjustment period . . . I was in High-A last year. The competition there was good, but these guys know how to pitch. They don’t miss over the plate as much. You’ve got to know how to pick your spots and at the same time, you don’t want to second-guess your approach. You want to stay to your approach and that’s what I’ve done. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: danny mars, garin cecchini, henry owens, manuel margot
Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens’ dominance creates promotion dilemma; Mookie Betts blasts off in Triple-A; Allen Webster staying on track; Jamie Callahan struggles 06.05.14 at 11:55 am ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens threw a career-high eight shutout innings on Wednesday. (365DigitalPhotography.com)

Left-hander Henry Owens threw a career-high eight shutout innings on Wednesday. (365DigitalPhotography.com)

The Feats of Mookie have made it to Pawtucket — and it seems very likely that the Feets of Henry will soon be reunited with them.

Left-hander Henry Owens, possessor of size 17 feet qua flippers, continued a breakthrough stretch in Double-A Portland. The 21-year-old, almost exactly three years after being taken by the Red Sox in the supplemental first round of the draft, delivered a career-high eight innings of shutout ball in which he permitted just two hits (both singles), struck out two, punched out six (with 15 swings and misses on his fastball and changeup) and recorded 14 outs via groundball. His fastball angle and execution down in the strike zone were little short of dazzling (on a night when he topped out at 93 mph and averaged 90 mph), complemented by a characteristically nasty changeup and a smattering of curveballs.

Through the first 58 outings and two-plus years of his pro career, Owens had never posted back-to-back outings of more than six innings. He’s now done so in three straight starts, with Wednesday’s eight-inning effort following consecutive seven-inning efforts. During that time, Owens has walked just five batters during 22 scoreless innings, a drastic departure from the three-start command struggle that preceded it in which Owens issued 14 free passes in 15 2/3 innings.

Owens has achieved new heights in his pitch efficiency and strike throwing. On Wednesday, he found the strike zone with 73 of his career-high 107 pitches (68 percent). He’s compromised his strikeouts (he’s struck out 17 in his 22-inning scoreless run) but he’s addressed the walks issues that had permeated his earlier outings this year while eliciting terrible contact on a consistent basis. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: allen webster, henry owens, jamie callahan, mookie betts
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