Sunday, December 20, 2009

# 8 - Rudy Owens

LHP Rudy Owens, who just turned 22 on Friday, was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. The 6'-3" lefty put up a 4-4 record in his last year of high school at Southeast Valley, but the numbers to remember his senior season by were his 0.86 ERA and 86 K in 55 innings of work.

Owens' lights out work in school didn't earn him much scout love, though, and the Pirates picked him in the 28th round in 2006. Even they weren't all that sure; they signed him to a draft and follow contract, meaning they kept his rights until next draft (2006 was the last year that particular ploy was legal).

He originally planned to go to Arizona State - maybe that's what hurt him on the draft board - but the Bucs had him go to in-state Chandler-Gilbert, a community college near his home, instead. Good move.

Owens went 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA and 58 K’s in 50 innings for the Coyotes. The Pirates signed him at the end of May, 2007, for $390K, and sent him to Bradenton in the Rookie League.

There, he wasn't all that. His numbers were 1-4 with a 5.32 ERA and 17 K in 22 innings. Still, it got his feet wet, and the Bucs sent the youngster along to the next step in the ladder, short-season State College, in 2008.

Owens got chopped up a little more with the Spikes. He was 3-6 with a 4.97 ERA, and had 45 K in 58 frames. He was having trouble with his splits - his opponent batting average was .269, with lefties hitting .196, righties .290.

But it was a case of the numbers not quite telling the whole story. Owens was the most effective starter at State College and actually had the lowest ERA. That's the level that the Pirates have their guys throw fastballs all night, to get command of the pitch. That, and an appalling defense, combined for some terrible numbers across the board for the staff that season.

At the start of the 2009 season, Rudy Owens was moved up to A West Virginia, but was certainly not on anyone's prospect list. He soon would be.

From May 30th to July 5th, Owens went 32-2/3 innings without allowing an earned run, with five straight shutouts. He also put together a span of 42 frames without a walk. His stay with the Power resulted in a 10-1 record and 1.70 ERA in 100-2/3 innings with 91 K, a WHIP of 0.85, and opponent batting average of .196.

The major change to his repertoire was dumping his slider and picking up a slurve to go with his heater/change combo. With the newly developed slow stuff, he could now keep those pesky right-handed hitters from lighting him up (they only hit .214 off him in 2009).

Owens was kicked upstairs to Lynchburg at the end of July. He returned to mortal status there, going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in just 23-1/3 innings. But Owens was on a strict inning count with the Hillcats, and got sporadic work. He still ended up with with twice as many innings pitched in 2009 as he had in all of 2008 (124-58).

But he did have enough in the tank to shine during Lynchburg's championship run. In two starts, the lanky lefty allowed two earned runs on eight hits with two walks in 12-1/3 innings, along with 13 K.

Combined, Owens had an 11-2 record, 2.10 ERA, and 113 K in 124 innings, with a WHIP of 0.944. Pretty good stuff, hey?

In addition to a championship ring, he won enough awards in 2009 to make Robert DeNiro jealous. The envelope, please:

He was named the 2009 Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Owens was selected to the 2009 Topps Class A All-Star team. He was the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year, and was a mid- and post-season all-star selection. Baseball America named him the best pitching prospect, with the best control and the best change-up, in the Sally league, and rated the him as the league's number eleven prospect.

Owens is kinda a throwback to the old days. He's a finesse guy, with a heater between 88-91, a slurve, and a change-up. His command is excellent - Owens has walked 38 batters in 204 minor league innings, 1.67/nine innings - can miss a bat, with a decent 7.72 K/nine, and keeps the ball in the park, throwing a gopher ball every 15 innings. He's the epitome of work fast and throw strikes.

His projection is to be a middle-of-the-pack starter, a finesse lefty along the lines of Zach Duke, hopefully without the bumps. Owens will start 2010 in Altoona, along with Tim Alderson and Jeffrey Locke. The upper levels are slowly beginning to fill in.

(Next - #7 Tony Sanchez)

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