Updated: July 9th 2006
As the Mets continue to seduce their fans with their winning ways, a true ‘summer of love’ has begun at Shea. Because of the solid job Omar Minaya has done in his short tenure as GM, the outlook should only get brighter through July and the dog days of August.
While signing Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner and trading for Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca have certainly personified Minaya’s stalwart work thus far, one should not overlook the fantastic job he has done in continuing to rebuild a minor league system that was all but vanquished just a few years ago.
Two of Minaya’s more publicized maneuvers, drafting pitcher Mike Pelfrey and signing Cuban defector Alay Soler, have helped to build a sense of depth and hopefulness in a starting rotation that is ladened with age. But thankfully, Omar has not forgotten the need to develop new blood and more depth for the oftened overworked Shea bullpen. Today, we will highlight the development of flame thrower Henry Owens, who Minaya snatched from the Pirates in the 2004 Rule V Draft.
A little over a year and a half ago while most of New York was oohing and aahing over the bombshell free-agent signing of "The Maestro" Pedro Martinez, the Mets were busily deciding on what players were worth signing from the minor league left-overs every club makes available each December in the Rule V Draft. The Flushing scouts decided only one player was worth the modest investment, relief pitcher, Henry Owens.
A year and a half later, Owens is one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects. At 27 years of age one would think Owens is well passed the hot-prospect label. But, this late bloomer has been held back by factors that have nothing to do with talent or skill. Owens was originally a catcher who spent his college career at Division II Barry University in Miami. In June 2001, he was more concerned with preparing himself for a career as a doctor than he was about getting drafted. As the 2001 amateur baseball draft unfolded Owens name was never called, just as he expected. As far as he was concerned his baseball career was over, "My focus throughout college was going to medical school, that was my intention… My intention was not to play professional baseball. I didn’t think I had a chance." But, because of his incredible arm strength the Pittsburgh Pirates came calling and took a chance on him. They signed him as an undrafted free-agent pitcher later that summer.
In the beginning, all Owens could do was rear back and throw his natural gas. He spent the
next three years in the Pirates’ low minors developing complementary pitches to his formidable fastball. By 2004 he had begun to transform an erratic curve ball into a potentially dangerous slider. His fastball was also becoming more dangerous as he was now mixing two-seamers in with his natural four-seamer, and was topping the radar gun regularly in the mid-90’s.
Just as Pirates’ scouts were starting to get excited, Owens suffered a long bout of elbow tendinitis and his progress was further hampered by chronic back problems. Owens fought through the 2004 season, but his control suffered and eventually the Pirates decided a pitcher who was 25-years old, and a converted catcher with elbow problems wasn’t worth protecting on their 40-man roster.
The Pirates’ misfortune was about to turn into one of Omar Minaya’s shrewdest moves when the Mets drafted him on December 13th, 2004. Owens was assigned to High-A (St. Lucie) for the 2005 season. This is where Owens began a string of dominating performances. From June through September of 2005 Owens allowed only 3 earned runs (ER) in 26 Innings pitched (IP) while posting a 1.04 Earned Run Average (ERA). His success led to a short stint in the Arizona Fall League where he was recorded topping the radar gun in the high-90’s. Building on his success in Arizona, he flew over to play Winter Ball in the Puerto Rican League. Owens handled the elevated competition with aplomb and began to work on a third pitch, a split-fingered fastball.
As the Mets opened camp this past spring, Owens was ready to open some eyes. And that’s exactly what he did. During his performance in spring training he wowed his big league teammates with his fire breathing fastball regularly topping 98 mph. As spring training wound down, the local NY media began to shine a light on his sensational camp.
On April 23rd, Owens celebrated his 27th birthday. For the first time in his career Owens would not be pitching in A-Ball. He was assigned to Binghamton, the Mets’ AA affiliate. Very quickly, Owens established himself as the closer. Besides a minor hiccup that sidelined him for much of May with a
strained elbow ligament, Owens completely devastated hitters in the
Eastern League. In 25.0 IP this season at Binghamton, he struck out a ******** 51
men allowing only 8 hits, 8 walks and 3 ER while garnering 11
saves. His ERA was 1.08 and hitters hit .106 against him.
While he continues to rely on a fastball that is thrown harder than any in the Mets’ entire system, his slider has evolved into a nasty strikeout pitch that some scouts have called Brad Lidge-like. He will occasionally mix in his two-seam fastball with his four-seamer whenever he wants to give the batter a different look, and he is starting to throw his splitter more often when he needs to induce a ground ball.
Because of the flame thrower attached to his right shoulder, Owens has completed his quick ascension through the Mets’ system. He was called up to Shea last Thursday. In two games Owens has tossed 3 shutout innings so far.
The Mets’ bullpen has been one of their brightest spots this season. But, with Aaron Heilman scuffling, Jorge Julio now in Arizona, and Duaner Sanchez in desperate need of a blow, Owens arrival provides a much needed boost to the Mets’ overworked bullpen.
Cabbie Scout Notes
Command (++1/2) Fastball (++++)
Competitiveness (++++) Slider (+++)
Intelligence (+++) Splitter (++)
+ below average
+++ above average
++++ lights out!