MINNEAPOLIS — Wise guys will say the real Futures Game was played in Houston between the Red Sox and Astros, where two young rosters collided.
Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, Christian Vazquez, and Rubby De La Rosa are already major leaguers, but the long and short of it is that 6-foot-6-inch lefthander Henry Owens and 5-8 second baseman Sean Coyle, Portland Sea Dogs teammates, provided a glimpse of even more of what’s ahead for the Red Sox at the real Futures Game Sunday at Target Field, in conjunction with Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
Owens, 21, who started for the USA team in its 3-2 win over the World squad and pitched a scoreless inning with a strikeout, is particularly intriguing in that he may be the reason why the Red Sox don’t re-sign Jon Lester.
Owens is projected as a top-of-the-rotation starter. In 17 Double A starts, he’s gone 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA. He’s held opponents to a .183 batting average, and has struck out 111 in 105⅔ innings with three complete games and two shutouts.
It won’t be long before he’s at Pawtucket. And once he gets his feet wet there, Owens could be in the mix to start with the Red Sox out of spring training next season.
Coyle is part of the Pedroia Parade of small players. From Bradley to Betts to Holt to Vazquez, the Red Sox are producing small, impactful players.
Coyle, a right-handed hitting second baseman, is hitting .336 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs. He was DHing when Betts was playing in Portland and has been back at his position since Betts jumped levels, eventually getting to the majors. Coyle is 13 for 13 in steal attempts. He has a .412 OBP and a .997 OPS in 217 at-bats.
“I made some swing adjustments this offseason that I started working on last season and I kind of just continued it in the offseason,” said Coyle who hit second and started at second base for USA, going 0 for 2.
“A little more rhythm and direction to my swing that allows me to stay in the zone a little bit longer. I’ve been able to be more consistent bringing the same swing to the ballpark every day.”
While there’s a big difference in height between Owens and Coyle, they have become best friends on and off the field, the Mutt and Jeff of Portland.
“Henry and I are good friends. We’re on the same team, sit together, and hang out on and off the field,” Coyle said. “It’s awesome that we’re two guys from the same team and friends and that we’re here playing in this game together.”
Coyle said of Owens’s game, “He’s very good right now. He’s just more consistent in how he throws his offspeed stuff and he keeps guys guessing and that makes hitters late on his fastball. He’s started to be able to pitch to contact. He’s shying away from striking everybody out and trying to pitch deeper into games.”
Owens, who allowed one infield hit and threw 19 pitches in his inning, said he hopes he can pitch with Lester someday rather than have him go elsewhere as a free agent. He spent time in spring training watching Lester and how the pitchers go about their business.
He said of his Futures Game start, “It was pretty exciting. In a way I’m glad I gave up the infield hit so I could get a strikeout. They told us to go out and have fun. It was great.”
Like Holt and Betts, Coyle knows what’s ahead — a position change.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked where he might end up. “Anywhere is fine with me. As long as I’m hitting somewhere 1-9, I don’t care. I probably wouldn’t be on the mound or first base. Those are two spots you won’t see me at.”
Ah, but Holt never thought he’d play first either.
“I try not to look who’s below me or above me,” Coyle said. “Let things happen the way they’re going to happen. If I take care of my own business, I’ll be fine.”
Owens doesn’t light up the radar gun, throwing around 92-93 miles per hour, which is a good thing as the chances of him avoiding elbow or shoulder issues might be reduced as a result. He’s more of a pitcher than a thrower. He understands the concept of setting up hitters.
He said he feels he’s making strides in a number of areas. The lanky lefty said he weighs about 218 pounds, a far cry from the 160-167 he was when the Red Sox first drafted him.
“I’ve gotten stronger every year,” Owens said. “I’m only 21 years old. This is the most facial hair I can grow. I’ve grown it for 21 years. Maybe I’ll get a beard and some man-strength down the road sometime. I think I’ll keep getting stronger.”
And with that may come more velocity, though Owens doesn’t seem to need it. His tall body and different arm angles are problematic for the hitter. He mixes speeds, has an excellent curveball and changeup. He doesn’t rely on power, though his delivery and the way he sets up hitters makes his fastball seem faster than it actually is.
“Every year I’ve progressed and improved with my mound limitations,” he said. “I’ve always had expectations coming into each year and I try to surpass them. I have to thank Bob Kipper, my pitching coach in Portland. He’s been a big factor in my success commanding my pitches. The four days in between my starts, he’s honed in on a routine in which he’s trying to get me better for every single start.
“Honestly, I can get better every single day. I know it must seem like a cliche to some guys and a lot of guys say it, but in this game it’s not a cliche. It’s hard to hit and pitch. There’s literally something you can do each day to get better. Whether it’s developing more muscle memory with my mechanics or getting a better feel for my curveball.”
He’s waiting for his time. The next step is Pawtucket. If he gets there by this season, he will be able to make 10-12 starts. If he succeeds, who knows what spring training will bring?
“I’ve been able to not put a timetable on anything,” Owens said. “I need to come in every day and do my job. The Red Sox will know when that time comes, and all I can do is go out and have solid outings and repeat them.”
Owens said he was able to relax in his first major league camp in spring training, knowing he was not going to make the team. His spring outings were impressive.
“I hope they’re able to sign Lester. He’s such a big part of that organization,” Owens said.
Lester was once Owens.
Six years later, Lester’s due for a mega payday. If not in Boston, then elsewhere. And if it’s not in Boston, then Henry Owens, it’s about to be your show.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.