What if I told you that a 6’6 lefthander previously drafted in the first round with a mid-90s fastball just became available, and the Detroit Tigers have the first chance to acquire him? Sounds appealing, right?
Well, this is mostly true. The Boston Red Sox placed lefthander Henry Owens on outright waivers on Wednesday evening to clear space on their 40-man roster. Owens, the 36th overall pick in the 2011 draft, has struggled in his young major league career, with a 5.19 ERA in 85 innings. Standing 6’6 with a lanky, sidearm delivery, he struck out over a batter per innings at Triple-A Pawtucket last year.
The catch? Unlike your Andrew Millers of the world, Owens’ fastball barely touches 90 miles per hour. Worse yet, his walk rate was an abysmal 18.5 percent (!) in those aforementioned 69 innings at Pawtucket. He didn’t see any action at the major league level last year, and actually finished the year in Double-A.
Our friends at Over the Monster further detailed Owens’ downfall.
As most remember, it wasn’t really all that long ago that Owens was one of the top prospects in the system and someone the Red Sox liked a whole lot. He has always flashed some impressive stuff, but his control never really came along as hoped. In fact, things have seemingly gone down in recent years. This past season was a new low for Owens, as the southpaw started the year by walking just under eight batters per nine innings in Triple-A. From there, he was demoted to Double-A where he walked over eight batters per nine before reducing that rate to 5.5 per nine in the Arizona Fall League.
They went on to mention that Owens’ gaudy walk rate could be partially due to him tinkering with his mechanics throughout the 2017 season, but he has struggled with his command before.
So, why should the Tigers be interested?
As OTM mentioned, Owens has some impressive raw stuff despite his lack of fastball velocity. When his command isn’t out of whack, he has an excellent changeup, one that generated a 22.6 percent whiff rate in 63 major league innings back in 2015. He also featured a solid curveball that he could throw to both lefties and righties. These three pitches helped him rack up 121 strikeouts in 126 frames at the minor league level this season, as well as a solid 18.9 percent strikeout rate in his handful of major league innings.
Better yet, this comes at zero net cost to the Tigers. Owens has less than a year of major league service time under his belt, and would basically make the minimum salary next season. Plus, he still has a minor league options remaining, so he’s not even locked into the team’s 25-man roster. One might argue that he has just as much upside as anyone the Tigers could take in the Rule 5 draft, and the Tigers have enough roster flexibility that they could grab Owens and select another minor leaguer next Thursday.
Simply put, this is the type of pitcher the Tigers should be looking for
Draft position isn’t a perfect judge of talent, but Owens has flashed enough during his young career that he’s worth taking a flier on this offseason. Tall, lanky pitchers sometimes take a while to find their footing at the major league level — like that Andrew Miller guy mentioned above — and Owens is still only 25 years old. The Tigers would need to clear a spot on their 40-man roster if they still want to take someone in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, but most of the pitchers they currently have rostered don’t have Owens’ ceiling.