Pictured: Not the Matt Barnes the Red Sox have. But after his start to his pro career, we're convinced Boston's Matt Barnes could dunk, too. (Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)
We've got multiple weeks of minor-league games behind us now, so it's time to restart our continual looks at Red Sox prospects at all levels. In a fitting way to start, today we'll look at the lowest-level active club, the Single-A Greenville Drive, and three prospects that the Red Sox selected in 2011's amateur entry draft.
Henry Owens was one of Boston's first-round selections, drafted at #36 overall. The left-hander is just 19 years old, and he looks it: he's 6-foot-6 already, but also just 190 pounds. If you want some context, Nick Punto is listed at 190 pounds. Nick Punto is 5-foot-9. Before the Red Sox start secretly pumping Owens full of food, though, we should give him some time to fill out. He's still a teenager, after all, even if he's a teenager who received a sizable signing bonus.
Owens has thrown 10-2/3 innings for Greenville, and all of the numbers are staggering. He has 22 strikeouts already, giving him nearly three times as many punch outs as free passes, despite walking eight batters already. That's 18.5 batters per nine innings. Last year's South Atlantic League K/9 leader was Grant Dayton of Greensboro, who punched out 12.4 per nine. Granted, Owens has thrown just those 10 frames, but that's still an eye-popping figure even for that small-sample.
Matt Barnes, Boston's first-overall pick in last summer's draft, was named South Atlantic League pitcher of the week for his start to the 2012 season. Today, he went six innings, allowing just three hits and striking out nine. In the 16 innings he's thrown over three starts, Barnes now has a 25/2 K/BB, six hits allowed, and far more groundouts than flyouts. Those numbers are just flat-out ridiculous.
The real test for Barnes won't come at Greenville, though. He has a plus fastball, and that's all you need to get by in Single-A much of the time, especially when you can command it like Barnes does. Like with Anthony Ranaudo in 2011, we'll start to learn about Barnes more when he's in High-A, and the hitters are just advanced enough to force him to work in his more-questionab
Just as overly-aggressive hitters eventually face pitching too tough to face with that approach, Barnes will eventually find hitters who won't be sat down with his fastball and command alone. That's not to say that you should be down on Barnes, or that he'll never get the bender he needs to complement his current arsenal. It's just a reminder that domination at Single-A doesn't necessarily mean they should start etching his name in Cy Young trophies now.
Blake Swihart was picked after Barnes, with the #26 selection in the 2011 draft. On the same day that the Red Sox lost catcher Luis Exposito to the Baltimore Orioles, the newest backstop in their system went deep for his first professional home run.
Swihart was considered one of the most pure hitting prospects in last year's draft, and the fact he was a catcher didn't hurt his stock, either. Even if he doesn't stick behind the plate -- and indications are he'll get every chance to do so, much like Ryan Lavarnway -- his bat projects as the kind that will work regardless of position. Power isn't necessarily going to be his forte from the start, though, so cherish the long ball when he does manage to drive one.
He's hitting just .200/.283/.350 with two stolen bases and that homer to start his career with Greenville, but as he's just 20 years old (and it's been 10 games), it's a little early to get worked up. With Lavarnway in Triple-A and on his way to the majors maybe as soon as this summer, there's no real rush on Swihart's development.