The Red Sox have a number of players in their system who have the potential to be the next top pitching prospect. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Red Sox Minor League Notebook: Who is the next Brian Johnson, Henry Owens?

Ryan Hannable
July 09, 2015 - 9:32 am
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It's an exciting time for top Red Sox pitching prospects as Eduardo Rodriguez has already made his presence felt in the majors and Brian Johnson and Henry Owens are knocking on the door in Triple-A. With Johnson and Owens both being drafted by the Red Sox and rising through the farm system, the time spent working on developing each pitcher is now paying dividends with one day each potentially helping the big league club win games. Every year new, talented players come into the organization, mostly via the draft, and begin their attempt of climbing up the ladder of the minors leagues with the ultimate goal of reaching the majors. While they may not have the name recognition as Owens, Rodriguez or Johnson, the Red Sox have a new wave of pitchers in the lower levels of the system poised to be the next big name waiting for their chance in the majors. Double-A Portland doesn't have many standout hurlers, but there some up and coming prospects in the lower levels with the potential to be considered the next Owens, Rodriguez or Johnson. Here are four pitchers to keep an eye on in the next few years: Trey Ball, LHP, High-A Salem A 2013 No. 7 overall pick out of New Castle High School in New Castle, Indiana, Trey Ball is by far the highest pick of the group and is starting to come into his own with Salem this season. Ball is 3-6, but has a respectable 3.68 ERA. He had a string of six straight starts allowing three earned runs or less. "I think the season is going pretty well," Ball said. "I think I've progressed a lot over the year and I'm trying to make it continue." Ball credited fellow pitcher Jacob Dahlstrand as helping him grow on the mound. "He's been a teammate for the past two years and being an older guy he's helped me how to play and do things the right way," Ball said. "After games he's always someone I can go to and talk about things and is someone I go to to ask about certain situations and what I can do. He asks me about my thoughts too. He's a great guy." The 6-foot-6 lefty is now in his second full season in the organization and says he feels much more comfortable than even last year, which is helping with his confidence on the mound. "I think it's a big advantage," he said. "Going into your first year, you don't really know any of the coaches and players. You don't know the routine. But, coming in as you get older, it becomes more fun and you're able to go about your business and do things the right way." Ball gave a predictable answer when asked who in the organization he looks up to. "I look up to Henry Owens and Brian Johnson and being both lefties, I look up to them a lot," he said. "They are older so getting to see what they've been through and I really look up to them." He's more similar to Johnson, as Ball doesn't overpower hitters like Owens does. In 85 2/3 innings, he has just 49 strikeouts, but has 36 walks. Cutting down on the walks is something he's looking to do in the second half of the season. "For me, I think my command is on the top of the list," Ball said of what he's working on the most. "Just trying to get all three of my pitches to be No. 1 pitches. You want to be able to throw all three pitches for strikes at any given time." Even though Ball is in his second full season in the organization, he just turned 21 years old two weeks ago. Some look at him being the No. 7 overall pick and still in High-A Salem and wonder if the pick was worth it. It's worth noting how young he is as he would be a rising college junior if he went to college and didn't sign. He's still growing as a pitcher and the progress he's made each season gives the organization belief that one day he could be like one of the pitchers he's looking up to now. "Just becoming more consistent with the way you're pitching, being able to command all of your pitches for strikes and for quality strikes," Ball said of what he needs to do to keep climbing the ladder in the organization. "As you move up hitters just get better and so do you. As they move up they are looking for one pitch to hit and if you can have three quality pitches and are throwing them for strikes you're going to have success." Ty Buttrey, RHP, High-A Salem Ty Buttrey was drafted in fourth-round of the 2012 draft out of Providence High School in Providence, North Carolina and because of injuries last season it set him back a bit, but the right-hander has emerged as one of the up-and-coming pitchers in the organization. Because of a hand injury and ineffectiveness last year, Buttrey pitched in the Florida Gulf Coast League, Single-A, short-season Lowell and Low-A Greenville last season. This year he started with Greenville, but after four starts he was promoted to Salem where he's having a great deal of success, thanks in part to a new delivery. "I changed my delivery up a little bit," Buttrey said. "I started going over my head and that allowed my timing to click. Last year, I was fighting myself with my delivery and my timing that the coaches, Paul Abbott and Ralph Treuel, told me to go over my head because it would allow me to gather myself. My timing and rhythm has been the key." With Salem, Buttrey is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA. A pitch-to-contact guy, he doesn't rack up the strikeouts -- just 44 in 60 2/3 innings -- but the 22-year-old is getting the job done. "I feel really good," he said. "I've done a lot of work with our pitching coaches and strength coaches just to work on getting looser, having rhythm with my delivery, working on my core. I just feel more athletic out there pitching than I did last year. I think it's starting to show. Things are starting to fall into place I think." When asked if there was a pitcher in the organization he looks up to, Buttrey didn't hesitate. "I would say Brian Johnson. Even though he's a lefty, we both have similar mechanics -- him being a left-hander, but still," he said. "I watch him pitch and he's very confident with his pitches. He mixes his pitches very well and he keeps everything in the bottom of the zone. Hitters get themselves out. He's a good guy. He looks out for me too." Even though last year was a bit of a step back, thanks to a new delivery Buttrey has rebounded this year and has shown the potential to eventually make an impact at the big league level. "I feel a lot more confident," Buttrey said. "I understand what the organization wants in me. Coming in as a high school kid is an eye-opening experience. This year I am starting to figure out pro ball and really trying to take my game to the next level." Michael Kopech, RHP, Low-A Greenville Michael Kopech is the youngest on the list at just 19 years old, drafted in the first-round of the 2014 draft out of Mount Pleasant High School in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He's in his first full season in the Red Sox organization and professional baseball, so he still has plenty to work on as he continues to develop, but the talent is there. So far with Greenville, Kopech is 3-5 with a 2.85 ERA. His fastball reaches the high 90s and it shows with his strikeouts -- 83 in 73 2/3 innings. The issue Kopech runs into is his control. He had five walks over four innings in his last outing and over his last 22 1/3 innings he has 10. "Overall, I feel I've done pretty well," Kopech said. "I'm not pleased because I'm a perfectionist, but I think I've done well. I think a big part of being successful in the second half would be getting more comfortable throwing my changeup. It's improved quite a bit, but I have to be willing to go to it whenever I want." Even though Kopech is in his first full season, like every professional baseball player he has the ultimate goal of reaching the major leagues one day. While Johnson came to the Red Sox from the University of Florida, Owens was drafted out of high school, so seeing Owens rise through the organization like he has gives Kopech confidence that one day that can be him. "It definitely does help to see high school success in our organization," Kopech said. "I don't know Henry well enough to say I necessarily look up to him, but he's a great pitcher and a lot of fun to watch. I think getting to the bigs is going to take a lot more of what I have been doing -- working hard on and off the field, keeping my head where it belongs and focusing on one goal." Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP, High-A Salem Although his 3-8 record certainly doesn't jump off the charts, right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz has a 3.69 ERA and is pitching extremely well of late, including a seven-inning shutout the last time he took to the mound. A 2013 second-round pick out of Seminole Junior College, Stankiewicz is similar to the other two pitchers in Salem -- steadily working his way up the organization. With Stankiewicz lacking run support this season, he hasn't let that get to him, as he has shown the maturity of a major leaguer. "For anybody being mental is going to get your over the top faster than other people,"€ he said recently. "Being in professional baseball you have to be as mentally tough as anyone. You'€™re going to have outings where you feel great and get ripped -- it'€™s just how it is. Then days where you don'€™t feel good you'€™re like, '€˜What'€™s going on?'€™ It just happens. You have to be mentally tough, stay in the game and be ready at all times." Stankiewicz is similar to Johnson in the fact he isn't going to blow anyone away with his pure stuff, it will be his consistency that keeps him rising in the organization. The 21-year-old has outstanding command for his age, as he has only 15 walks in 90 1/3 innings pitched this season. While personally he isn't thinking about when he gets the call to the next level, the results are speaking for themself. "€œI am hoping to get [to the majors] one day, but if you'€™re thinking about that it'€™s going to get you off track,"€ he said. "€œYou have to think about what you'€™re doing right now and if you get moved up, you get moved up fantastic, but you can'€™t think of '€˜What if I get moved up?'€™ You can'€™t think like that. You have to focus on what you'€™re doing and not let your mind wonder off." Check out the weekly WEEI.com Farm Report podcast hosted by Ken Laird and Ryan Hannable.

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