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Dan Shaughnessy

Red Sox almost always overvalue their prospects

Should the Red Sox really consider young catcher Blake Swihart an untouchable? Charles Krupa/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Treetop southpaw Henry Owens made his big league debut in the House That Jeter Built Tuesday night.

He gave up a run on two hits and a walk in his first inning — a 33-pitch grind that featured a visit from the pitching coach and a phone call to the bullpen. He was at 51 pitches after two innings.

But the big lefty settled down. He set down 12 Yankees in a row and took a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning. After allowing a single and a double, the rookie was relieved by Robbie Ross Jr., who promptly gave up the lead. The bullpen allowed 10 runs as the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 13-3.


But make no mistake, Owens, who threw 59 of his 96 pitches for strikes, delivered on the big stage.

Owens could be a good major league starter. Maybe more than good. But like every other player in the Red Sox system, he is over-valued because he is working for a franchise that believes its own myth like no other franchise.

In addition to promoting the fallacy of annual contention (at the end of this year, the Sox will have won a playoff game in only one of the last seven Octobers), the Sox always believe they are going to improve because they seem to think they are smarter than everybody else. They can’t part with any of their prospects because all of them are too darn good.

This only works to a point. It’s great to hold on to Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. But is Blake Swihart really untouchable? Owens? Brian Johnson (now on the disabled list with a bad elbow)? Jackie Bradley Jr.? Deven Marrero? Rafael Devers? Manuel Margot? Javier Guerra?

Back in the old days, the Sox would consider it OK to give up a prospect to get an established major leaguer. Pedro Martinez was acquired from the Montreal Expos for top prospect Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. Theo Epstein loved Anthony Rizzo and Casey Kelly, but he bit the bullet and traded both for Adrian Gonzalez.


While we’re at it, let’s remember that rising star Hanley Ramirez was dealt to the Florida Marlins when the Red Sox really wanted and needed Josh Beckett (Mike Lowell was a throw-in who turned out to be World Series MVP in 2007). That’s a good example of a deal that helped both teams.

No more. The Sox can’t deal their precious prospects. They waited too long on the likes of Ryan Lavarnway, Anthony Ranaudo, Michael Bowden, and Brandon Workman. The one guy they moved on — Jose Iglesias — is still up for debate.

Boston’s organizational self-delusion is emboldened by a local media that over-hypes minor league talent (the “Juan Bustabad Effect”), and a national brigade of “experts” who annually love Boston prospects more than life itself.

Seriously. ESPN know-it-all Keith Law last month said the Red Sox have “the best farm system in baseball.’’ During spring training, Baseball America — the bible of analytics cultists — ranked the Sox farm system No. 2 out of 30 franchises.

Going into Tuesday night’s play, Boston’s Triple A and Double A teams were an aggregate 50 games under .500. Pawtucket was slogging along at 44-65 while Portland was 40-69. We all know that winning games is not the mission of minor league teams, but this wretched performance says something about the greatest farm system in baseball.


Here’s more unfortunate truth. It’s been 10 years since the Red Sox scouted, drafted, and developed a pitcher who became an All-Star with Boston (Clay Buchholz, 2005 draft). It’s also 10 years since the last position player in this category (Jacoby Ellsbury, 2005).

Maybe Henry Owens is next. Along with Bogaerts and Betts.

But the facts are the facts. Whether it’s evaluating their big league club or their farm system, Boston’s self-awareness problem persists: The Red Sox are almost never as good as they think they are.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.