IF YOU want to get a look at the next big thing — literally and figuratively — in the way of Boston Red Sox pitching prospects then Tuesday night is the night.
Rated the No. 5 Red Sox prospect at the start of the season, 6-foot-6 left-hander Henry Owens will start for Portland Tuesday at 6:35 against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. One of the Fisher Cats top pitchers, Marcus Stroman (8-4), will toe the rubber against Owens.
"We know what we have here. We have a very interesting left-handed pitching prospect with game makeup, composure, poise and (good) stuff," said Portland manager Kevin Boles. "He has plenty of room to fill out. There's plenty of upside with him."
Owens was the 36th overall pick out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., in the 2011 First-Year player draft. He started in the South Atlantic League with single-A Greenville in 2012, going 12-5 with a 4.87 ERA and an eye-opening 130 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings.
Owens, who declined an interview request so that he could focus on tonight's start, began this season with single-A Salem (going 8-5 with a 2.92 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings) and was called up to Portland on Aug. 1. With the Sea Dogs in four starts, Owens is 2-0 with 1.50 ERA through 18 innings with 30 strikeouts.
"He's got a three-pitch mix, he's got leverage with the fastball when it works down in the zone. He plays off the breaking ball. He's got a sharp-looking breaking ball. The arm speed on the changeup is pretty impressive," Boles said. "Again, it's a three-pitch mix and the variance on velocities on those three pitches has been very impressive. He maintains his stuff from the stretch and has a calm presence. He has a lot of poise for a young pitcher."
Owens put together an impressive stretch with Salem earlier this season, throwing 19 consecutive no-hit innings. One of the outings was an actual no-hitter, albeit combined with two other pitchers. But that's life in the minor leagues. A no-hitter doesn't guarantee you'll stay in the game when you're a young pitcher.
Those 19 innings of dominance were a glimpse into what Boston hopes Owens will develop into at the major league level. His rookie season in Greenville was regarded as underwhelming considering his potential, though those strikeout numbers were a major silver lining.
Owens seems to have taken the next step from an inconsistent and perhaps unfocused youngster into a pitcher with some drive at age 21. Owens struggled in his last start, but Boles is expecting a smooth bounce-back tonight.
"We're looking for better command. He had a rough outing the last time out but he'll learn from that and make those adjustments," Boles said. "He doesn't wear his emotion on his sleeves. You've got to give him credit for that because this league can get fast sometimes. It can get quick in a hurry with some of the offenses in this league."
Owens remains a work in progress, but many of his stats show the promise that has Boston so excited to monitor his development. In addition to the ridiculous strikeout numbers, Owens has also dominated right-handed batters (who are hitting just .140 against him) and all batters are hitting just .053 with runners in scoring position against Owens.
And the "can't miss" label doesn't appear to bother him, either.
"He blocks out all the noise. He does a real good job with that. His teammates love him and being around him. He's focused and he comes in with a plan every day," Boles said. "He's driven. He wants to become a major league pitcher and become a quality one."
Staff writer Ian Clark can be reached at email@example.com.