Red Sox minor league roundup: Three years later, Henry Owens keeps checking all the boxes; Pawtucket trade candidates; Trey Ball showing signs

July 07, 2014 - 9:56 am

Over the last dozen years, the Red Sox have rarely dedicated their earliest picks to high school pitchers. The team did it with its top selection in 2002, drafting Jon Lester with its first overall pick (a second-round selection), but after that, the instances of taking a pitcher with a first- or sandwich-round pick were few. Entering 2011, the Sox had used a first- or supplemental first-round selection on a high school pitcher just three times. There was Michael Bowden in the supplemental first round in 2005, Caleb Clay in the supplemental first round in 2006 and Casey Kelly in the first round of the 2008 draft. That was it for the first eight Red Sox drafts under GM Theo Epstein, during which the Sox had 19 picks in that top round of the draft, and there was a reason. "High school pitching, our approach was we wanted to have really high standards in some areas that were important to us because the bust rate is so high with high school pitching," Epstein explained this weekend on the Minor Details podcast. "We felt like if we were going to miss on high school pitching, let's at least miss on somebody who checks all of our boxes, who does the things that we think, through a lot of trial and error and a lot of collective wisdom, does the things that we feel are really important. "With high school pitching, it wasn't enough to just have a good arm or to have a swing-and-miss pitch. We really wanted size, projectability, athleticism, makeup, command of the fastball, some movement or other swing-and-miss quality to the fastball, we wanted to see the present ability to spin the baseball and not just projection, we wanted to see feel for a changeup, we wanted to see intelligence and acumen, we wanted to see work ethic, we wanted the arm to work well, we wanted to have a certain kind of arm action, we needed to see ease in the delivery and a repeatable delivery, a delivery that worked. We had a long checklist that we looked for in high school pitching. That's why we didn't take much pitching at the top of the draft, and you'll notice that the Cubs don't either. It's a rare pitcher that can check a lot of those boxes." But Owens checked enough of them to convince the Sox: This was the high school arm worth a pick, at a time when a lot of high-ceiling talent remained on the board. "Owens was not one to immediately wow you with his stuff, but the closer you looked at him, you realized he did check a lot of the boxes. He was a really gangly kid, huge kid but very skinny who had massive feet and massive hands, and really showed command beyond his years. He showed the ability to spin the ball, even though it was a really soft curveball at the time, the ball spun well, had the changeup, was able to locate his fastball. He threw better, probably, on the showcase circuit the summer before than he did his senior year in high school." The team brought him to Fenway after drafting him in the supplemental first round, and against other draftees, Owens showed what the Sox were looking for. "You could see just that swing-and-miss quality to his fastball, almost an invisible fastball. He was throwing 90, 91 mph, but with the delivery, the deception, the way it came out of his hand, the natural qualities that it has on the way to home plate, it's not a fastball you can center or barrel up easily. It had some qualities that weren't obvious at first but you could see them. And he had a really good changeup and developing curveball." The survey of Red Sox draft officials, cross-checkers and area scouts ultimately was in lockstep. Everyone bought in on Owens' potential. This was the high schooler worthy of a first-round pick. "It was projection, but enough you could buy in on right now with a really fun-loving kid with great makeup who wanted it. It became clear that he stood out," said Epstein. "He's kind of a special guy for a scouting department. ... When you believe in a high school kid and there's some projection involved, he's not sort of an obvious guy who jumps out to the entire industry, those picks are special, and it's been awesome to see how he's developed." On Sunday, in his final start before he heads to Minneapolis for the All-Star Futures Game, Owens matched a career high (previously achieved last Aug. 3) with 11 punchouts while equaling another career high (previously reached on June 4) by tossing eight innings. He gave up three hits (a single, double and triple) while walking just one in limiting his opponents to a single run. He's continued to show that "invisible" fastball -- which elicited six swings and misses on Sunday while running 88-92 mph -- and a devastating changeup (nine swings and misses on Sunday), with his curveball coming on in recent outings (yielding five swings and misses on Sunday). He's averaging just under seven innings a start in his last eight outings, a stretch in which he's averaging 2.1 walks per nine innings while punching out roughly a batter an inning and getting loads of groundball contact. Dominance in Double-A -- a level from which Owens is almost surely close to leaving behind -- is of course far from a guarantee of big league success (see Bowden, Michael), but right now, Owens checks all the boxes of a potential big league starter with a chance to make an impact for the long haul, taking steps towards fulfilling what the Red Sox believed they saw in 2011. TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-4 LOSS AT COLUMBUS (INDIANS) (BOX) -- The wait for Rubby De La Rosa's return to the big leagues evidently won't be long. At a time when the Red Sox need a starter for Wednesday, De La Rosa was pulled from his start for the PawSox after one scoreless inning in which he walked a batter, struck out another and threw just nine of 21 pitches for strikes. In essence, the Sox appear to have used De La Rosa's scheduled start as a side session to get ready for a return to the big leagues on Wednesday. -- Another player who appears close to ready for a return to the big leagues: Mike Carp. Carp went 2-for-4 with a double, walk and strikeout in five plate appearances and played eight innings in left field before being lifted for a pinch-runner in the ninth. After going 1-for-13 in the first five games of his rehab assignment, Carp has gone 4-for-8 in the last two games with a homer and a double. -- Carp and Ryan Roberts both could represent somewhat overlooked trade candidates for the Red Sox. Carp offers a professional left-handed bat who can play first and left while also offering a talented pinch-hitter who is undeterred by the responsibility of coming into a game cold. Roberts, meanwhile, has been exactly the sort of player the Sox were hoping for when they signed him after Will Middlebrooks' first trip to the DL. He went 3-for-4 on Sunday, and after getting beyond the spring training-ish phase of the start of his year, since May 1, Roberts is hitting .303/.366/.465 in 49 games, and against lefties, he's hitting .313/.382/.612 with three homers and 12 extra-base hits in 76 plate appearances against lefties. As a right-handed bat who can over depth at second, third and in left, he represents the sort of complementary piece that contenders seek before July 31. -- Shortstop Deven Marrero went 3-for-4 with a double, and through five games, he's now hitting .389/.421/.500 with two doubles, a walk and five strikeouts in 19 plate appearances. Overall, between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Marrero is hitting .297/.374/.437 in 73 games. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-1 WIN VS. NEW BRITAIN (TWINS) (BOX) -- Center fielder Derrik Gibson keeps raking, as the 24-year-old went 2-for-5 with a double to improve to a .321 average with a .411 OBP and .412 slugging mark in 65 games. He ranks ninth in the Eastern League in average and fourth in OBP. Since June 1, he's hitting .384/.481/.545. -- Catcher Blake Swihart is in a mini-slump, having gone 1-for-11 with five strikeouts in his last three games, including an 0-for-4 with three punchouts on Sunday. The three strikeouts represented a season high for Swihart, who has struck out in just 15 percent of plate appearances this year. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 8-2 WIN AT CAROLINA (INDIANS) (BOX) -- Left-hander Corey Littrell had his second straight seven-inning outing, permitting a run on three hits (a double and two singles) while walking two and striking out four. In four second half starts, he now has a 2.81 ERA with 20 strikeouts and just seven walks in 25 2/3 innings, and over a broader period, he's shown considerable improvement in his control. After walking 4.6 per nine innings through nine starts, Littrell has now allowed 2.2 walks per nine in his last seven outings. -- Outfielder Aneury Tavarez continues to crush the ball, as the 22-year-old launched his seventh homer in his last 21 games, a stretch in which he's hitting .333/.381/.667 with at least one hit in 18 of the 21 contests. He's walked just twice while whiffing 20 times, but he's aided his on-base cause by getting hit by four pitches. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 10-5 LOSS AT AUGUSTA (GIANTS) (BOX) -- Left-hander Trey Ball allowed five runs in five innings, but just one was earned as he was betrayed by a dreadful defensive day. Ball gave up five hits (four singles and a double), walked two and struck out a career-high eight, with seven of those swinging strikeouts. He also recorded seven ground ball outs. In recent outings, the 19-year-old has shown an improved curveball that has gotten opponents off of his fastball, resulting in greater effectiveness of both pitches. The results have been promising, as Ball has now yielded one earned run and eight hits over 10 innings in his last two starts. On Sunday, he worked at 88-93 mph with his fastball, a pitch that yielded seven of his 15 swings and misses; three more came on his curve, while five resulted from his changeup. -- Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin had a strong offensive day and a horrible defensive one, going 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles but committing three errors. Lin, considered an advanced defender with the glove to profile as a shortstop (or, more likely, big league utility player), has 16 errors on the season. -- Second baseman Wendell Rijo added to his recent offensive uptick, going 2-for-3 with a double and a sac fly. In his last 10 games, he's hitting .351/.390/.541 with a homer and four doubles, bumping his season line back up to .271/.355/.410. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 11-3 LOSS AT TRI-CITY (ASTROS) (BOX) -- Center fielder Cole Sturgeon, a 10th round selection as a senior out of Louisville, went 2-for-4 with a triple and stole his second base. -- Third baseman Jordan Betts went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. It was his fifth multi-hit game in his last eight contests. ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: OFF DAY DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: OFF DAY