Boston Red Sox: Where will Henry Owens end up in 2016?


The Boston Red Sox already have more pitchers than rotation slots. Where does that leave young prospect Henry Owens after a promising 2015?

I’m not sure how many of you remember being 23, perhaps you have yet to even reach it, but, from what I recall, the biggest pressure I faced each day was resisting the urge to hit the snooze button for the umpteenth time. Not so for Boston Red Sox pitcher Henry Owens. Still working on his peripherals in AAA Pawtucket at the start of 2015, it was a surprise to see him suddenly hauled up to the bigs in August of the same.

In many ways however, it wasn’t really a surprise at all. The Red Sox’ 2015 campaign was a textbook case of just about everything going wrong, that could possibly go wrong. Pitching staff hurling to the collective benefit of an outfield in little league? Yep. Career slumping performances from Mike Napoli, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and, at least to begin with, David Ortiz? Of course. And then there were injuries, oh were there injuries. Dustin Pedroia, Boston’s own living Chuck Norris joke added fuel to the fire of whether he’s as rock-solid dependable as in the past, sitting out 42 games fewer than 2014.

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Injuries were most felt in the rotation however. Surprising nobody, the wheels came off the  Clay Buchholz train early yet again, but to the shock of many Rick Porcello and recently called up Brian Johnson wound up on the disabled list for one reason or the other. To this end, Owens found himself thrust up into a Boston desperate for somebody to fill the holes in the rotation and pitch some innings. A difficult challenge for a yet-prospect who was still very much developing the potential he had and has.

Owens, you see, isn’t a flamethrower, his fastball sits between 90-92 MPH, but what he lacks in heat, he makes up for in prowess. His big-out pitch is the changeup, he throws it some 25% of the time and it’s the cause of a majority of his swing and miss strikeouts. He has the command of it to throw at either side of the plate and the confidence in it to throw at any count. It worked well in AAA but how would it play up in the show? And AL East at that?

His changeup is still able to get outs and his stuff in general played quite well. Ah, you’ll point to his ERA of 4.57 and FIP of 4.28 as evidence of otherwise, but I feel for Owens you have to look beyond the sabermetrics to get the full story. His stuff is still raw and that’s to be expected from all but the most precocious of young pitchers, but there’s plenty to be hopeful about. His K rate was a healthy 20% and he had only three really bad starts (each giving up 7 earned runs) out of the 11 he competed in. Indeed, nothing illustrated his potential better than his 7.2 shutout innings in his second to last start against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway, a team more than capable of connecting in a park that lends itself to just that.

For this reason, we gave Owens a B- on his report card for the year. He’s still very young, but showed he has the ability to compete despite everything against him. But where does this leave him in 2016?

The prevailing opinion, it seems, is that Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski will have no choice but to send Owens back down to Pawtucket. The sheer volume of back-of-the-rotation starters languishing in Boston is overwhelming. Behind newly acquired ace David Price, you’ve got Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly, Buchholz, Porcello, Johnson and even the potential for Roenis Elias to get a spot. With that in mind, it’s unlikely that Owens will be back in Boston to start the year, as Ian Browne of notes:

"“Rodriguez is all but a given to be in the rotation. He was one of the best pitchers on the team last season. Barnes is going to the bullpen, perhaps for good. Johnson is coming back from an elbow issue, but you could see him at some point, depending on how the rest of the rotation performs. Owens will definitely get a chance to show what he can do in Spring Training, but he could get stuck in a numbers game.”"

And that’s it, too many pitchers and not enough rotation slots.

Now, I happen to like Owens. He’s tall, lean, athletic and he projects to be a strikeout heavy pitcher with that changeup. Not only that, but he has a good clubhouse presence and was part of a young core in 2015 that helped lift the mood of an otherwise dull and dismal campaign. Who can forget his being gagged and taped to the dugout pole prior to a game with the Phillies? Proof, as if it was needed, that baseball is unrepentantly bizarre.

All that said, I can’t help but agree with Browne’s assessment. Owens had a promising 2015 in Boston, but it showed more potential than actualised ability. The plethora of pitchers waiting in line is simply too great and I can’t see Owens moving ahead in the pecking order over Spring training. That’s the bad news, the good news is that a longer stint in AAA is perhaps exactly what Owens needs.

He was called up to the Red Sox a little too soon and didn’t have time to refine his other secondaries, such as his yet-raw curveball. There’s still a good few years of filling out to come for Owens too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his fastball gained a few extra MPH on the whole as well. In the end, Owens projects to be a very capable number 3 innings eater, should all go well.

One feather in Owens’ cap may be the club strategy going forward. It’s been very clear, as we’ve discussed previously, that in acquiring Price Dombrowski wanted a positive influence to help the younger pitchers take the next step. Price has been widely credited as assisting Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer and up and coming Toronto Blue Jays number 1 Marcus Stroman. His guidance and critique helped shape them and undoubtedly contributed heavily to their ability to move forward. Dombrowski, understandably, hopes the same can be replicated in Boston with its young and impressionable pitchers.

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While Owens would benefit from this, the question as to whether he will get the chance still remains. Though major moves appear to be complete, the option to move him as part of a trade package isn’t unthinkable, depending on the return. Either which way, Owens is still to properly begin his journey in the Majors and, whether he starts next year in AAA or otherwise, we should expect to hear a lot more of him in time to come. And all that at 23.