The Boston Red Sox are starting to raid the Portland Sea Dogs’ roster. Travis Shaw and Mookie Betts received their expected promotions to Pawtucket. Outfielder Shannon Wilkerson also got moved up and is excelling.
But what will the Red Sox do with Henry Owens, the 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher who is beginning to dominate in Double-A?
Owens is only 21 and just three years out of high school. If he had accepted the scholarship that was offered by the University of Miami, he would have been in the major league draft held Thursday through Sunday.
One comparison often made is with left-hander Jon Lester, who also was drafted out of high school and reached Portland when he was 21. Lester dominated at times, finishing 11-6 with a 2.61 ERA. He stayed with the Sea Dogs all season and into the playoffs, and was named the Eastern League pitcher of the year.
During that 2005 season, there was speculation that Lester would be promoted, following another prospect (Jonathan Papelbon), who was already moved up.
But the Red Sox farm director in 2005 said there was value in keeping Lester in Double-A and pitching for a contending team.
The farm director was Ben Cherington, now the Red Sox general manager.
Papelbon, by the way, was a 24-year-old with college experience. Lester, the Red Sox said, needed more development.
So does Owens stay with these Sea Dogs, who have the best record in the league?
Another comparison to use is Clay Buchholz. He pitched one year in junior college before Boston drafted him in 2005. He began the 2007 season in Portland at the age of 22. After 16 games (7-2, 1.77), Buchholz was promoted on July 12. He was in Boston by the end of the season, pitching a no-hitter.
Owens looked like he was on the fast track when he began the year with a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter in the season opener.
Eventually Owens threw some clunkers, giving up 10 runs total in two starts at the end of April.
But in Owens’ last six games, he’s allowed only 12 hits and three runs. In four of those starts he lasted at least seven innings.
His fastball command has improved drastically, his curve is getting better and Owens’ beloved change-up remains practically unhittable at the Double-A level.
When Cherington promoted Betts last week, he talked about the obligation to present new challenges to Betts, who was batting .355 in Double-A.
A couple more lights-out starts for Owens will force the Red Sox to ponder another promotion.
ONE PROBLEM with trying to move Owens up is making room. Counting Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa – who are filling in for the injured Buchholz and Felix Doubront – there are six pitchers ahead of Owens in the minors.
And the other four are faring well in Pawtucket – Allen Webster (2.81), Anthony Ranaudo (2.79), Steven Wright (1.38) and Matt Barnes (5.01), who has shined in spurts.
BETTS’ ABSENCE was not only felt in the field but in the clubhouse. He was the team’s barber.
“We’re going to have to start paying for haircuts or bring someone else in,” infielder Sean Coyle said.
THE SEA DOGS began the season thin in the outfield and continue to be with Wilkerson and Betts (now a center fielder) gone, and Henry Ramos and Peter Hissey on the disabled list.
Ramos fouled a pitch off his leg and recently found out he has a stress fracture and will miss at least a month. Hissey was hit in the head by a pitch on May 31 and has concussion-like symptoms.
That leaves converted infielders Derrik Gibson and Jonathan Roof in the outfield, along with recently promoted Keury De La Cruz and Bo Greenwell.
FORMER SEA Dogs players have moved around. The Red Sox have signed former Portland infielder Iggy Suarez. He currently is assigned to the short-season Lowell roster.
It is not clear what Suarez’s role will be (mentor?). Suarez, 33, played three seasons in Portland (2007-09) and was popular among teammates and fans. He has since been playing in the independent leagues.
Former Portland and Boston outfielder Ryan Kalish was optioned to Triple-A by the Cubs. Kalish had batted .242 for Chicago.
Daniel Bard, the hard-throwing reliever for Portland and Boston, is trying to regain control in the Rangers organization. But Bard’s debut did not go well. Pitching Thursday for the Hickory Crawdads in the low Class A South Atlantic League, Bard faced four batters, hit three and walked one.