I had a few interesting questions sent in at the end of this week’s Prospects Chat. My answers would have been too long for a chat, but they were questions I wanted to answer. Going forward, I might make that a Wednesday Q&A feature, highlighting some of the questions that would require a more in depth answer. Or maybe I’ll just run them as “First Pitch” topics. For now, I’ll go with them as “First Pitch” topics.
Do you feel Rudy Owens has started to repair his prospect status?
This question also had a mention about how Frank Coonelly compared Owens to Kyle Drabek after the 2010 season, although that part was cut off for some reason when I copied the question over.
Owens was the minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 he combined for a 2.10 ERA in 124 innings, with an 8.2 K/9 and a 1.2 BB/9 ratio. In 2010 he moved to Double-A, where he had a 2.46 ERA in 150 innings, with a 7.9 K/9 and a 1.4 BB/9 ratio.
Through the first four starts of the 2012 season, Owens has a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings, with a 6.6 K/9 and a 0.3 BB/9 ratio. If this was 2011, and he put up those numbers in his first four starts, we’d look at his 2009 and 2010 numbers, call his first four games legit, and start asking when he’d get the call to the majors. But that’s not what happened in 2011.
Owens had a bad year, posting a 5.05 ERA in 112.1 innings, with a 5.7 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9 ratio. He ended the year with a shoulder injury. It would be convenient to chalk his whole season up to the shoulder injury, but that didn’t really play a factor. I’ve talked to a lot of people about Owens’ struggles in 2011, including Owens himself. The ultimate problem was that his command was off. The cause of that problem? There are several theories, and the one that I’ve heard the most, and that makes the most sense, is that Owens was hit for the first time in three years, and stopped trusting his stuff.
The loss of command is a big issue for Owens. He doesn’t have a great fastball. His velocity spiked in the second half of the 2010 season, jumping up to the 90-93 MPH range (which combined with his numbers drew the Drabek comparisons). But he has since dropped back down to the 86-91 MPH range, which is where he was when I saw him on Saturday. While he doesn’t have a great fastball, when his command is on he can put the pitch wherever he wants.
Owens throws a great changeup, which I consider a borderline plus pitch. It is his go-to pitch, and allows him to have success as a starter. Despite being a lefty, Owens is better against right handers, mostly because of the changeup. He also throws a curveball, but the pitch is only average at best. Add it up and you’ve got one plus pitch, two average pitches, and plus command, which makes his fastball better than it normally would be.
You can see how the loss in command would impact Owens. Take that away, and he’s just got an average fastball, an average-at-best curve, and a plus changeup. And his changeup also is hurt by the loss of command. Not to mention it’s rendered ineffective if Owens can’t use the fastball. The changeup might be the bread and butter for Owens, but the command is his calling card, and it’s what made him the number seven prospect in the system heading in to the 2011 season.
So has he repaired his prospect status? The command might not be totally at the 2010 levels, but it is definitely back, and much better than the 2011 version of Owens. That’s something I noticed in Spring Training, and it’s something that has carried over to the regular season. We’re seeing part of that with the 19:1 K/BB ratio this year.
I’d say Owens has repaired his prospect status. He does take a drop from his pre-2011 prospect status, since he’s not throwing in the 90-93 MPH range like the second half of the 2010 season. But he has massively improved from his 2011 pitching. Again, if Owens puts these numbers up in 2011, we wouldn’t question whether they were legit. He was a top prospect and put up strong numbers before because of his command. That command disappeared in 2011, leading to his poor season. The command is back this year, and he’s putting up strong numbers. That definitely makes the numbers legitimate, which points to Owens’ prospect status being on the rebound.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost 12-3 to the Cardinals. Game story here.
**Prospect Watch: Matt Curry with his second homer in as many nights.
**Kevin Goldstein listed the five future number one starters in the minors, and the Pirates had two of them.