Left-hander Henry Owens is making steady progress of late. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Red Sox Minor League Notebook: Henry Owens 'starting to figure some things out'; Best defensive shortstop in minors?

Ryan Hannable
July 23, 2015 - 7:20 am

With Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson both making their big league debuts this season, the third left-hander who began the year in Pawtucket, Henry Owens, seemingly is next in line. Owens, who turned 23 this week, quickly rose through the Red Sox organization after being drafted in the supplemental first-round in the 2011 draft, reaching Double-A at age 20. He debuted with the PawSox last July and went 3-1 with a 4.03 ERA. The 6-foot-6 lefty hasn't had the best of season's this year, as he is 3-7 with a 3.26 ERA, but has walked 54 batters in 110 1/3 innings. Just a month ago he had the most walks of any pitcher in Triple-A or the majors. "There's a lot of experienced hitters that are going to have -- he's trying to command the strike zone with his pitches and a lot of the veteran Triple-A guys, that's what they do. They command the strike zone as hitters, too," Red Sox minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel said. "They are not going to swing at pitches out of the strike zone maybe they were swinging at in Double-A. That's part of the process. It's made Henry a much better pitcher because the competition he's facing there and ultimately what he's going to face in the big leagues, those guys know the strike zone." Owens has pitched better of late, not walking more than two batters in a game in each of his last seven starts going into Thursday's outing. "I think he realized he needed to get more consistent with his delivery," Treuel said. "Bob Kipper's (Pawtucket pitching coach) done a really good job with him. We say just getting into a stronger, more compact position over the rubber. I think this has allowed him to leverage his fastball to both sides of the plate a lot more consistently." The California native was drafted out of high school, so he would just be graduating college if he didn't sign right away. Being a player coming out of high school, his path is going to be more gradual than a player coming from college who has more experience. It's to this point where those in the Red Sox organization have stayed patient with Owens, realizing he still has room to grow. For example, Johnson was selected in the first-round of the 2012 draft, a year after Owens, but Johnson had three years of experience at the University of Florida. "I think the biggest thing with Henry, just like any other high schooler, he came in and the body just isn't fully developed," Treuel said. "Still at 22, the coordination, especially a 6-foot-6 left-hander -- he's starting to figure out what to do with his body right now. That's why we're seeing for me, a much better, more polished pitcher the last couple of months. I think he's starting to figure some things out." The biggest debate with a pitcher who has had at least some success in Triple-A and there is a need at the major league level, is when a player should be called up? Treuel said there are a number of factors that go into the decision, some varying on a case-by-case basis, but the biggest thing is being able to command every pitch and being able to do the little things consistently. "You look at performance," he said. "For me, it's the ability to command the fastball. Ability to command the secondary pitches in fastball counts and being able to do all the little things -- control the running game. Guys get to the big leagues and all of a sudden guys are on base and if they can't do that then the game really speeds up on them quick. Those are things that they need to be able to do. It's our job to teach them before they get there." With the way the last few weeks have gone with the Red Sox and the way Owens has pitched, some have wondered if his time is coming sooner than later. While there's no denying his debut will likely occur at some point this year, it will in all likelihood be a bit longer down the road. "I think he's getting better and that's what his job is, to develop at the minor leagues and we try and get him as good as we can before we send him up there," Treuel said. "Hopefully when he gets there he's doing all the little things right. He's heading in the right direction." 'BEST DEFENSIVE SHORTSTOP IN ALL OF MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL' There have been a number of talented players who have worn a Low-A Greenville uniform this year, but there's one who is extremely talented, but hasn't gotten the attention of the likes of Yoan Moncada or Rafael Devers -- Javier Guerra. The shortstop is batting .309 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs this season, but is most known for his defense. "He's a special player defensively," manager Darren Fenster said. "I know people have referred to him as possibly the best defensive shortstop in all of minor league baseball and I have the pleasure of seeing him every night and I am right there along those same lines. "His development at shortstop, he can make plays from a physical standpoint that most guys can't. In addition to that, what makes him so special is he has an instinct and anticipation where he's thinking about plays that most guys it doesn't even enter their minds and you combine those two, he's not afraid to take risks and now it's just kind of a matter of him understanding the situation of when it's appropriate to take those risks and when he's just got to take that easy routine out at first base and let the pitcher do the job to get one or two more outs." Although he's known for his work in the field, he's been swinging a hot bat at the plate. The 19-year-old, who was signed as an International free agent in 2012, is hitting .488 over his last 10 games with four home runs and 12 RBIs. "I wouldn't say he's done anything in particular in his hot stretch different than he's done all year," Fenster said. "He's probably had as much progress from April to now than anyone we have from an approach standpoint, from a plate discipline standpoint. Not chasing balls out of the zone has put him into a much better position to go into hitters count. And when he gets pitches to hit, to his credit, he's taking aggressive swings and hitting the ball well." It isn't just his play in the field that has impressed his manager, it's the way he approaches the game, always looking to improve and working at his craft. "He's one of the smartest players on our team," Fenster said. "The instincts that he has, the anticipation that he has is indicative of that. When you throw that into all the early work we're doing before 7 o'clock, this guy has a focus and a genuine desire to get better. He's made steady progress is really every part of his game." A SPECIAL 17-YEAR-OLD One name to keep an eye on for Red Sox fans in the years to come is right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza, currently in the Gulf Coast League. So far this season he's allowed just four earned runs over 35 innings (1.03 ERA) and has struck out 35 to go with nine walks. The most impressive thing is he's only 17 years old. Espinoza was signed for $1.8 million out of Venezuela last summer, as an International free agent and was one of the most coveted free agents around the game. Treuel saw him pitch for the first time in person on Tuesday and came away very impressed. "First impressions, he throws an easy of a mid-90s fastball that I've seen," he said. "Most guys that are that young, and he's probably right at 6-feet right now, have a little more of a max effort delivery. The delivery is easy and he has a pretty good feel for some secondary pitches. He's very advanced for a 17-year-old. Very mature. He has some intangibles that you don't see in a 17-year-old pitcher." "Whoever taught this kid growing up, I believe it was his father, did a heck of a job with him," he added. Usually the youngest players who come into the organization are 18 years old, drafted out of high school, but the Red Sox got Espinoza at 16, which will bode well for his overall development as the Red Sox will be in the ones in control. "I think at 17 it's important because we can control the work load," Treuel said. "We can monitor the amount of pitches and innings. We've him for the long-term." For more, check out the weekly WEEI.com Red Sox Farm Report Podcast hosted by Ken Laird and Ryan Hannable.