Henry Owens might be the most intriguing pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization. He may also be the most unique. Drafted 36th-overall last year out of a Huntington Beach, California high school, the 6-foot-7 southpaw wears size-17 shoes, surfs, plays both the piano and the guitar, and can throw a football 80 yards. His powerful left arm can also propel a baseball, as he’s been clocked as high as 94 mph. No less notable is the fact that Owens has an advanced feel for pitching that belies his 19 years.
David Laurila: How would you define yourself as a pitcher?
Henry Owens: I’m probably more of a power pitcher. I’m looking to pitch to contact, but in more of an overpowering way. I’m trying to get strikeouts as well as ground balls. My fastball sits 90-92 and tops out at 94, and hopefully I’ll be able to raise my velocity a little bit as the year goes on.
I was taught to not just throw, but to pitch. There’s obviously a difference. Rather than just rearing back every time, you have to pitch with a purpose. I throw a lot of off-speed pitches.
DL: In your mind, pitchability and being a power pitcher aren’t mutually exclusive?
HO: They’re opposite, yet they can work together. I’m a power pitcher in the sense that when I get ahead in the count, I have a fastball that I can throw by a few people. At the same time, in a hitter’s count — say it’s 2-1 or 3-1 — I have enough confidence in my off-speed pitches to know I can throw them all for strikes.
DL: Following the draft, [Red Sox scouting director] Amiel Sawdaye said that you throw four pitches but probably dabble with everything else.
HO: I throw four pitches, but right now I’m sticking with three. We shelved my slider in instructional league because they want me to just focus on my curveball. They want me changing speeds on that, rather than throwing a hard slider, and to keep working on my changeup.
When I was a senior, I played around with a cutter. I threw a lot of two-seams and sometimes I would change my arm slot. That was all more experimental stuff. Now I’m just basically straight over the top with three pitches.
DL: Is your fastball a two-seam or a four-seam?
HO: I throw both. My two-seam is more for when I’m ahead in the count, because it’s harder for me to control. I get late, downward movement on it, more like a bite.
DL: Sawdaye said that you not only change speeds on your curveball, but shape as well.
HO: I think that was more when I was throwing both a slider and a curveball, but when you’re changing shape you can backdoor a righty or start it out on the plate and try to put it over his back foot. There’s a bunch of stuff you can do. I don’t throw it just to throw it. There’s a purpose to every pitch.
I’d say I throw four curveballs. There’s a get-me-over, which is like an 0-0; say it’s late in the game and you’ve faced a batter a couple of times. There’s a backdoor, a back foot to a righty, and then there’s a two-strike where I’ll almost, in a sense, overthrow it. I’ll kind of spike it and make sure they’re not going to hit it.
The slowest my curveball been clocked at is 68 mph. I’ve seen a few guys go even slower — like Livan Hernandez — but I’m probably not going to do that. I’m trying to be tricky out there, but not that tricky. The highest has been 76.
DL: How would you describe your changeup?
HO: It’s a circle change and I’ve been throwing it my whole life. I didn’t throw a curveball until I was 15 and a freshman. My dad wouldn’t let me throw one, because it puts too much [stress] on the elbow when you’re a kid. My ligaments were still growing.
I’ve been throwing my change since I was 11 years old, although I didn’t get to showcase it too much in high school because it would just speed the hitters’ bats up. Now that I’m in pro ball, I’ll be using it a lot. Hopefully I’ll get a lot of ground balls and swings and misses with ir.
DL: Do you get much movement on your changeup?
HO: It moves a lot. It comes out of my hand like a fastball with four-seam movement. I don’t throw a two-seam change; I throw a four-seam change. About the point where the hitter is about to swing, it kind of drops. It’s a pitch you try to drop off the table. I’ll get a little run with it sometimes, too. Basically, it stays fastball for awhile and then drops off.
DL: Do you consider it your second-best pitch?
HO: Personally, I think it’s my best pitch. When you talk to pitching coaches, they’ll always say that the best pitch in baseball is strike one and that you have to command your fastball. In that respect, a fastball has to be every pitcher’s best pitch, but as I progress in my career, my changeup is going to help me get to the next level.
DL: You reportedly have some deception in your delivery. Is that accurate?
HO: I think so. I mean, I have big old feet and I’m long and lanky. My arm angle is straight over the top. I really get on top of the ball and get a downward plane. I hide it pretty well.
Because I’m so long and lanky, I need to have a pretty even-keeled delivery in order to repeat it over and over. The Red Sox haven’t tinkered with my mechanics at all. They haven’t asked me to change anything.
DL: Have you studied your delivery on video?
HO: When I was in instructional league, I was kind of struggling to get my fastball over the plate, as I hadn’t been on the mound for awhile. Watching video of myself from high school, I realized that I usually take a deep breath before every pitch. On the [instructional league] video, I wasn’t doing that. Since then I’ve made it a habit, even doing dry drills, to take a deep breath. It’s a muscle memory thing.
DL: Do you plan to watch video of hitters when you progress to the higher levels?
HO: Definitely. I’ll use whatever I can to get an advantage. On the mound, I’ll watch swing tendencies, where they stand in the batter’s box, whether their swing is long, or short and compact. Most of that is unconscious, though. When I’m pitching, I try not to think too much. That’s what we’re all taught. When your mind is free — when your consciousness is free — is when you’re at your best.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.