Henry Owens, LHP
There was hope that putting on extra muscle and thickening up his lanky frame would do wonders for Henry Owens in 2013. It's early yet, but what we've seen to this point has been promising in that regard. His strikeouts are down from last year, but they were never going to stay at their ridiculous Low-A altitude forever -- plus, he's still punching out over a batter per inning. More importantly, Owens owns a 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, something that only seemed possible last year if he was going to strike out 20 batters per nine innings. (Spoiler: he wasn't going to.)
Owens is a tall left-hander, and with his velocity higher now than last year, and both his command and control tightening up, he could be much more than just an honorable mention in the various top-100 prospect lists. He's got a whole lot of season left to get through, but if you had to choose one pitcher in the system to break out before the year began, it would have likely been Owens. We'll see if he can deliver on his early promise, but as said, things are looking up for his prospect stock.
Brandon Jacobs, LF
Jacobs had a slow 2012 after a breakout 2011 in part due to a hamate injury. That's been fixed, but you wouldn't know it by his line, as it's once again unimpressive. Like with Owens and his early and positive start, you can't put too much stock into this just yet. However, remember that Jacobs had serious questions about his ability that were separate from the injury, heading in to 2012: his batting average on balls in play made his 2011 line look far more impressive than it probably should have been, and for a hitter who hasn't been around long enough to be established as a high-BABIP type.
Combine that with the fact he's already relegated to left field as a 22-year-old, and there isn't much room for error. Jacobs needs to hit, and hit a lot, to be an outfielder the Red Sox can believe in. Striking out in 29 percent of his April plate appearances while hitting just .200 despite a .319 BABIP is not how you go about doing that. The recent walk surge is a start, but there will need to be much more of that in his future.
Like it's too early to embrace Owens as a 2013 breakout, it's too soon to dismiss Jacobs. But he is fighting an uphill battle given the questions and last year's struggles.
Keury De La Cruz, OF
De La Cruz had a quality 2012 out of nowhere, and it landed him in High-A Salem for six games to close out the year. He now has 98 plate appearances at the level, and has hit .242/.286/.418 in that stretch. He can be forgiven to a degree for that, as he's just now 21 years old -- De La Cruz didn't have his birthday until nearly December. However, we'd be remiss in our work if we didn't mention that he has some things he needs to accomplish for this year to be a success, and a continuation of last season's surprise campaign.
De La Cruz is not very patient. He's drawn walks seven percent of the time in his career, and while that's not terrible, it's also not very good. He's got some pop, but there are concerns it's not the kind that will play at the higher levels against more advanced pitchers who can take advantage of his impatience. The key to De La Cruz's 2013 will be for him to develop some semblance of patience at the plate that shows he can control plate appearances, get the pitches he wants, and do something with them.
If that doesn't happen, there's no reason to panic: it just means he might be a 22-year-old at High-A Salem to start 2014, and there are far worse prospect fates. It is going to be the thing to watch for with him this year, as it is with any prospect that can hit in spite of themselves at the lower levels.
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