By: Matt Kardos
(TRENTON, N.J) Flame throwing southpaw Henry Owens improved to 2-0 for Portland on Wednesday evening after shutting out the Thunder for 6.2 innings at Arm & Hammer Park. The 6'7" Owens has tremendous size for a starting pitcher and appears to be on the fast track to the big leagues with his hot 2014 start in the Eastern League. After his dominating effort against Trenton, the 30th rated prospect in baseball by MLB.com leads the league in wins with two, and has fanned 18 batters in 12.2 innings without surrendering a single run over that span; both are also league bests.
"He has competed really well out there in his two outings," said Sea Dogs Manager Billy McMillon. "He's gotten ahead of hitters, mixed up some pitches and kept guys off balance. That is what we hope to get, not only from him, but all of our starters. But, his first two have been very impressive."
The young 21-year old hurler was selected in the first round (36 overall) of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft by Boston out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California. Owens has continually gotten better in his short time in professional baseball and appears to be nearing the doorstep of the major leagues.
Owens dominated the Carolina League as a member of Salem to begin his 2013 campaign. Over 20 starts there, Owens went 8-5 with a 2.92 ERA while fanning 133 batters in 104.2 innings. Boston bumped Owens up to Double-A to finish the season with Portland and he continued to demonstrate ace-potential by striking out 46 in just 30 innings while posting a 1.92 ERA.
McMillon is in his first season managing the Sea Dogs after holding the same post for Salem the previous two seasons. That experience has allowed McMillon to witness the continued growth and development of Owens first-hand from a young thrower to a mature pitcher with command of his stuff.
"You can see the evolution of him as a player," said McMillon. "He is just a couple of years out of high school so the grind of the professional baseball season, the five day workload that a starter has; he is learning all of that. He is maturing and we would like to see that continue. He goes about his business the right way; he just needs more professionalization, if you will."
The most impressive stat to come out of Owens latest outing this past Wednesday in Trenton was not the shutout or strikeout totals, but instead the zero in the walk column. Owens made a start on the road in Arm & Hammer Park at the end of his 2013 campaign and walked seven batters in just three innings of work. It was an evening Owens threw just 35 of his 77 pitches for strikes.
"I think the last time that I threw here, I threw 12 straight balls at one point," Owens explained. "So, this was better."
The strikeout pitch will always be there for Owens, his mid-90's heater and above average curve ball and change-up make his arsenal one of the most promising in all of baseball. For many young pitchers, particularly lefties, control is typically the last and most difficult aspect of pitching to grasp before turning the corner in their development. Owens understands that he has a special fastball and worked hard in the off-season to harness his command.
"I feel like in terms of development, I've really taken a step forward with my fastball command," admitted Owens. "In spring training, I was really just focused on figuring out my mechanics and I think that I have figured them out."
Owens added, "Number one for me is my fastball command. Once I can command the fastball, everything plays off of that and I can throw a change-up or curve ball and that makes my fastball look that much harder."
The season is obviously just one week old, but the signs of maturation and domination from Owens after two starts have already stirred up talk about his arrival in Beantown. Despite having the "phenom" label attached to him and the attention of pundits everywhere set on his every pitch, McMillon still believes that Owens has room to grow before becoming a star in the big leagues.
"Guys are in Double-A for a reason," said McMillon. "There is still a lot of development that needs to go there, some maturing and learning more baseball. Suffice to say, I think that he has a lot of upside. I think you can close your eyes and see him pitching at upper-levels, but he will get there when he gets there, nobody is going to rush him. If he keeps having outings like he has had, he will probably open up some more dialogue about what is going to happen in a month from now."