Perhaps it’s just my short-term memory, but it feels like Owens is the first Pirate pitching prospect in forever to bust on the scene seemingly out of the blue. After two seasons of decent ratios but middling ERAs in Bradenton and State College, Owens exploded with West Virginia in 2009, striking out 91 hitters and walking just 15 in 100 2/3 innings with the Power.
The Pirates were slow to promote him, presumably because of his low inning count in 2008 and that he threw mostly fastballs with State College that year, but after the trade deadline they moved him up and his K/BB ratio actually improved (from 8.1 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 to 8.5 and 0.8, respectively) despite getting hit a bit harder. It was still an incredible year for a guy that was mostly off everyone’s radar when the year began.
It will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle Owens in 2010. He could probably handle a promotion to Altoona, but his innings more than doubled last year between WV and Lynchburg, so it’s possible the team will start him out slowly and let him start the year with the Bradenton Marauders in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. If he keeps a pace even resembling the one he had last year, though, they probably won’t be so slow to promote him.
July 2010 Update: Owens is following up his 2009 breakout with a strong season in Altoona. In 17 starts with the Curve, he’s got a 7.4 K/9, a 1.7 BB/9, and has cut his home run rate way down thanks to a higher groundball rate. That may be thanks to the addition of a two-seamer, a pitch he talked about working into his repertoire in the off-season.
A lot of people like to compare Owens to Zach Duke since he’s a fastball-curveball lefty that doesn’t top out much above 90. It’s true that their minor league numbers bear some similarities and that they do profile similarly, but hopefully the two-seamer and a good changeup will help Owens raise a little beyond the back-end guy that Duke’s turned into with the Pirates. As always, it’s worth watching to see how he fares as he rises through the system and pitches against more advanced hitters. For now, though, he’s been up to the challenge. July 2010 rank: 2
January 2011 update: OK, I think it’s time to start giving Owens his due. He was nearly as good in Altoona last year as he was in the lower minors in 2009 (his ERA was better than it was in High-A Lynchburg, but his strikeout rate was slightly lower and his walk rate was slightly higher). There have been plenty of concerns about his velocity, but most reports I’ve seen have him at or above 90 mph, and as a left with a two-seamer and a curveball that’s probably all the harder he has to throw to be at least Paul Maholm-level effective or better. He’ll presumably be coming to Durham with the rest of the Indianapolis squad in May, so I hope to be able to see him there. January 2011 rank: 2