With Jon Lester and John Lackey being sent out of Boston at the trade deadline, there were holes left to fill in that rotation. One of those holes was filled by rookie Anthony Ranaudo, a prospect I wrote about last week. The other spot was filled by Brandon Workman who, to this point of his career, hasn’t really shown much ability past being what he’s been, a bullpen guy who can be used as a spot starter. Maybe he develops into more, maybe not. Time will tell.
This leaves a rotation with the ace being Clay Buchholz. In short, every spot in this rotation is up for grabs. The Red Sox are already looking ahead to next year, but fantasy baseball owners are looking to September call-ups.
One of those September call-ups looks to be 22-year-old Henry Owens, the tall left-hander drafted out of high school in the supplemental first round in 2011. Before I continue with this I should probably get one of the reasons I don’t like most pitchers coming out of the minor leagues for fantasy purposes: walks.
I already mentioned Ranaudo, and I have already written about Milwaukee Brewers prospect-now-MLB pitcher Jimmy Nelson. While these guys still have far too few innings to really make any determination, neither has done much to be fantasy relevant yet. That’s why guys without good command aren’t really fantasy targets early in their careers. Heck, Clayton Kershaw had a 4.08 FIP in his first rookie season in the Majors, largely thanks to a 4.3 BB/9. These types of pitchers are to be used solely if there are no options left and a push needs to be made to finish at the top of your league. These aren’t pitchers to target for fantasy owners in first or second place in their league.
With that out of the way, a little bit more on Owens.
I’m far from a baseball scout, and would never get into the mechanics of a throwing motion or a swing. I leave that for much more knowledgeable people in this area.
One thing I will say that’s immediately noticeable in the following video, there are a lot of moving parts in the delivery of Owens. The video is from Mike Newman of ROTOScouting:
Watching the entire video isn’t necessary, just one pitch will demonstrate everything. The arm acts almost like a trebuchet, while his leg does a funky little kick just before landing. This problem is exacerbated when there are runners on base and he’s not working out of the stretch, because all these movements still occur but are just more compact. While this may seem natural to him, it can cause repeatability issues and that leads to walks. A lot of them.
Through his first two minor league seasons, 2012 and 2013, Owens pitched 236.2 innings (almost all as a starter) and walked 115 batters, good for a bad BB/9 of 4.4. As I mentioned, this was a pitcher coming out of high school and that kind of walk rate early in his career is far from a guarantee of failure.
Owens improved this year. Quite a bit, in fact. After posting a BB/9 of 4.5 for the 2013 season by itself, Owens cut that by a full walk to 3.5 BB/9 in 121 innings at Double-A to start this season. The reduction of walks would seem to indicate an ability to control the ball a bit better, but it did hurt his strikeouts; after posting a K/9 over 11.0 each of his first two years, that dropped to 9.5 this year. Mind you, that’s not a bad thing: fewer strikeouts with fewer walks and a lower home run rate would point toward Owens inducing more contact, but weaker contact.
Owens cutting down the walks and maintain a low home run rate even with pitching to more contact was likely done with the intention of helping get deeper into games, and it has: only 4 out of 26 starts in 2013 went longer than six innings; he’s gone longer than six innings in 9 of 21 starts this year. Part of that is naturally being stretched out, part of it as an improved approach on the mound.
This is a lefty who features a low-90s fastball than can get up to the mid-90s if need be. FanGraphs author Marc Hulet also talked about a potential plus-changeup and an average curveball. He has the build to get a good downward plane on his pitches, which would help get more depth to his off-speed pitches. Hulet also talked about Owens needing to induce more contact to have a bigger upside, which he has done so far this year.
The more I read of Owens, the more I really like him as a fantasy pitcher. This is a prospect who is not trying to cruise his way through the minors with the hopes of getting to the MLB on his talent alone. He has a lot of it, but he’s also made changes to the way he approaches hitters, and it’s been for the better.
Owens was just promoted and made one start at Triple-A. This would seem to imply that he will be with Boston come September. While I would wait until he gets the call before adding him, this is one prospect who has potential (not certainty, potential) to make a good fantasy impact this year. This isn’t a prospect coming up with the hopes of going five innings. This is a prospect coming up who could get six or seven innings per start.
Again, this is someone who has pitched extremely well at Double-A – 151.1 innings produced a 1.12 WHIP – and is making his last stop before the Majors. Even a K/9 over 7 would give him immediate fantasy relevance.
Be on the lookout for Owens. For those making a final roto push from third or fourth place, this may be a prospect to help put you over the top.