In the Cubs’ never-ending quest for quality pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, you can never ignore any possible avenue, including another club’s cast-offs. Especially if that club is the Boston Red Sox, and that cast-off is a former first round pick when Theo Epstein was running the show over there.
Last night, the Red Sox placed former top prospect and left-handed pitcher Henry Owens on outright waivers, removing him from their 40-man roster. That means that any team could grab him right now if they’re willing to put him on their 40-man roster.
I’m wondering if the Cubs might be interested.
Not only is Owens, 25, still an interesting arm, relatively young, and plenty cheap, but he was also drafted in the first round (36th overall) by the Red Sox back in 2011, when Theo Epstein was still the General Manager.
In the years that immediately followed the draft, Owens was considered a top prospect by most publications thanks, in part, to his killer changeup. Baseball America, for example, had him in their top 100 after the 2012 season (#91), 2013 season (#40), and 2014 season (#44), and he was the #2 prospect in a very good Red Sox organization in those last two years.
Owens began the 2015 season in Triple-A and got some good results (3.16 ERA), despite some peripherals that weren’t quite as strong (3.66 FIP, 20.6 K%, 11.2BB%). And by August he had earned himself a call-up to the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, he struck out even fewer Major Leaguers than Minor Leaguers (go figure) and couldn’t really keep the ball on the ground (34.7%), which led to some pretty bad results through his first eleven starts in the show: 4.57 ERA, 4.28 FIP.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Owens revealed himself to be somewhat of a competent contact manager, with an above average 20.5% soft-hit rate and a below average 27.7% hard-hit rate (likely because of that nasty changeup keeping hitters off balance).
He started the 2016 season back at Triple-A, but was quickly recalled to the Majors after three great starts right out of the gate (1.00 ERA, 32.9K%), despite a walk rate above 14%. As it turns out, the Red Sox should’ve paid closer attention to the command struggles, because Owens walked 13 batters over his next three starts (12.1 IP) and was sent right back down to the Minors. He made two other starts during the year, but the same problems persisted.
And I’m afraid last season was even worse. Owens spent all of 2017 in the Minors and was even demoted down to Double-A half-way through the year. Across both levels, he posted a pretty much unusable 19.5% walk rate (again, this is in the MINORS, where free swingers are more common), and, that bring us to yesterday’s placement on outright waivers.
So why take a look at Owens now?
Well, the surface-level “Epstein drafted him and knows him” thing is certainly a non-zero reason why *I’d guess* the Cubs might be involved. But on a higher level, well, he was a former top prospect with a quality pedigree, some past success, and is still just 25. How can you not want to gobble that potential up for nothing more than roster space and see if the Cubs coaches can have better luck?
Sure, the Cubs would have to give him a 40-man roster spot, but their roster number stands at just 34 right now and there are at least a handful of names you could cut from there and not lose sleep over. There’s a good chance Owens never really figures out his command issues and fails to become anything of consequence in the Major Leagues, but who knows? With a wipeout changeup and some youth on his side, maybe he can make it work. It’d certainly be worth a shot in my book.
And, hey, he’s never been tried as a reliever – so maybe there’s another angle there, too.