A sad tale of two promising Red Sox prospects – Blake Swihart and Henry Owens

Mar 1, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) singles during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) singles during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Blake Swihart and Henry Owens were once considered vital to the future Boston Red Sox. Now both are possibly heading into what could have been.

Just what do scouting reports tell you? There are projections within the reports that are also predictions. In most instances, the predictions have a certain degree of proven validity with the top 27 major league prospects. They may not reach the lofty standards predicted or may also actually exceed them. Sometimes the promise is never attained due to injury or just fail.

The Red Sox through the years have had the unfortunate failures as has every organization. Occasionally a player such as Will Middlebrooks would burst on the MLB scene and high hopes became the standard. Then they crash. Others may get a taste of the “Big Show” and forever be delegated to Triple-A ball such as Bryce Brentz once considered an MLB right-hand power bat.

In 2014 the Red Sox had two players on the MLB Prospect Watch top 25 – Blake Swihart and Henry Owens. Both were expected to wind their way to Boston and establish themselves as starters and maybe even to be considered stars. Both had promising beginnings and now may have reached the nadir of their careers.

"Owens’ command isn’t great, but he has a good feel for pitching and continues to miss bats as he rises through the Minors. He has a ceiling of a No. 2 starter. – MLB Prospect Watch"

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Owens – a 6’6” lefty – arrived for 11 starts in 2015. Owens – then just 22-years-old – had what best could be said as a lukewarm introduction to the majors. Eventually, Owens racked up a 4-4 record and 4.57 ERA. The warning sign was control – an issue that has now made his career questionable.

Owens had a 3.4 BB/9 in 63 innings, but what stands out is the inconsistency with control. In those 11 games, Owens had five starts that went six or more innings.  The total innings pitched was 36.2, but the walk total was just five. In the remaining 26.1 innings, Owens issued 16 walks. Owens had a 2.98 ERA in the five games he had his control.

Owens was a tease that season and I and many others felt he would eventually be – as predicted – a solid number two in the rotation. So just how did that work out? In 2016 Owens made five starts and walked 20 in 22 innings. At Pawtucket, his 5.4 BB/9 actually looks microscopic to a 7.4 BB/9 this year.

Looking for any glimmer of hope is Owens keeps hits off the board with a minor league career 6.9 H/9 in the minors. Owens also strikes out batters and this season he has a 9.9 K/9 with the PawSox. Despite his propensity for walks, Owens still has a respectable 3.92 ERA.

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So what do you do? The Red Sox have no problems keeping Owens just where he is.  Maybe the Red Sox will have a turn of good fortune and Owens will discover the plate.  He has the ‘stuff” and when his control is on Owens has proven he can win – in Boston or Pawtucket.

Swihart made an impression in Boston and that impression was a solid positive.  The athletic Swihart could hit and was no dud behind the dish.  Converted to catching his defense had been a work in progress and progress was being made.

"Swihart is still a work in progress, but he has the potential to be an impact player in the Major Leagues. – MLB Prospect Watch"

In 2015 the then 23-year-old switch-hitter showed some power with five home runs and decent contact hitting.274 in 84 games. That was to be the springboard to a 2016 season, but disaster struck. Swihart went to left-field and took over only to hurt his ankle in a freak accident.  Swihart hit .258 in Boston and just .243 at Pawtucket. A wasted season.

Swihart’s move to left ended with injury and the emergence of Andrew Benintendi so the Red Sox now moved him back to the catching option and option became a death knell for Swihart since he had one left. In spring training Swihart hit .325, but Sandy Leon was coming off a .300 year and Christian Vazquez was healthy.  Both were superior defensive players. Neither could be sent down.

Pawtucket this season has not been kind to Swihart as his average is just .216. The gap power has also been absent as Swihart has just three doubles in 111 plate appearances.  Mookie Betts can get three in just one game. Swihart also has a 32 CS%.  Nothing remarkable.

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So there it is, folks – two former first round picks who certainly ranked high in 2015 on MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball America. That was just a carry over from 2014 where enough was shown to legitimately place them into a virtually “can’t miss category.” The trouble with that is sometimes they do miss. I’m not ready to close the book on either -yet.

Statistics through 6/15.