The battle for second place on our top-20 prospects list was between two top lefties, but in the end, it wasn't all that close. Henry Owens takes his place as the runner up to Blake Swihart, better than tripling the vote of his next closest competitor in Eduardo Rodriguez.
Pegged as a sleeper candidate after his debut season in 2012 saw him put up big peripherals and mediocre results, Owens has spent the last two years proving that faith was well-placed. He ran roughshod over Salem and dominated Double-A Portland for a short while after a mid-season promotion in 2013. Then he carried that momentum right over into 2014, starting off the season with a (rain-shortened) six-inning no-hitter, and not allowing a run until his third start of the season. From May 14 to June 20, he had one of the most impressive stretches on the mound the system has seen in recent memory, throwing 43.2 innings of two-run ball.
There are two types of concerns surrounding Owens. One more legitimate than the other. The first, more legitimate concern is that Owens has struggled with control throughout his career. He's gotten better--2014 was the first time he pulled his walk rate under 4.0 per nine innings--but some extra focus on limiting free passes leading to a second straight year below that mark would go a long way towards proving that Owens has things under control.
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On the other hand, there's the concern of those who focus too much on defining a player's place in the rotation. The debate rages on as to whether Owens--who generally throws around 90 rather than 95 and relies on an exceptional changeup to hide a somewhat limited repertoire--is a frontline starter, or more likely to end up in the middle of the rotation. It's a nice concern to have, even in an offseason that's made the presence of an "ace" seem that much more important by way of Boston's lack of one. In an average year, a rotation of five Henry Owens (or at least, five experienced Henry Owens) would probably look quite good. It's hard to ask for much more from your top pitching prospect than that.
Two picks in and we have one bat and one arm on the list. Will runner-up Eduardo Rodriguez make it two straight southpaws, or do Owens' voters have someone else between him and the other top lefty in the system?