Hunter Owen, who just graduated from South Portland High, is playing summer baseball in Ohio for a program that has won three straight national Connie Mack 18-under championships. He has a scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

This was supposed to be a week of highlights for Hunter Owen.

The left-handed pitcher and his South Portland High teammates would have been in the midst of the Class A playoffs, likely pegged as the favorite to win the school’s first baseball state title since 1952. And Owen, rated as a top-200 player in the Class of 2020, would likely have been picked in the Major League Baseball draft.

But, like so many other athletes, Owen’s special spring was scrubbed by the coronavirus pandemic. No high school sports were played in Maine. And in a cost-cutting move, MLB reduced its draft from 40 rounds to just five.

Owen is good enough to have earned a baseball scholarship to attend Division I power Vanderbilt University. In April, he was ranked as the 197th overall high school prospect (and 22nd left-handed pitcher) by Perfect Game. But MLB draft projections did not have him going in the first five rounds.

“Really, what I think about in this situation is my faith in God. I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason, and if He’s writing my story right now, I’m not going to question that,” Owen said.

“Sure, it hurts. Senior year, you want to have all those great memories with friends, but when it comes down to it, there’s more to life than baseball. … I still stand in awe that I’m going to Vanderbilt.”

Undrafted players are eligible to sign a free-agent contract, but signing bonuses are capped at $20,000 this year for all free agents.

“I don’t think I would forgo Vanderbilt for that, just because of the academic opportunity,” Owen said. “From what I hear, they hold you to a high standard and mature you to be successful in life and in the professional baseball business.”

Owen is currently in the southern Ohio town of Amelia, a suburb of Cincinnati, preparing to play summer ball for the Midland Baseball Club, a well-regarded program that has won three straight national Connie Mack 18-under championships. Former Midland players include Baseball Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, and current Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi. Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown helped arrange a spot for Owen with the Midland team prior to the pandemic.

“We still do our fair share of social distancing, but there’s a lot of college guys there this year and we’ve just been intersquading so far and just getting better,” Owen said.

It’s the first baseball that Owen, a two-time Varsity Maine All-State pitcher, has played in months.

As a sophomore, Owen was 6-1 with a 1.25 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 39 innings and was named the SMAA’s Player and Pitcher of the Year. He improved on those stats as a junior, striking out 73 batters (against 11 walks) in 40 2/3 innings, allowing just 16 hits and one earned run, and earned Maine Gatorade Player of the Year honors. In the summer of 2019, he upped his maximum fastball velocity to 92 mph.

Now 6-foot-6 and a solid 235 pounds, Owen said he believes he’s capable of consistently throwing in the low 90s throughout a game.

“Really, it’s just getting ready for college right now,” Owen said. “Our move in day right now is Aug. 22. Obviously that might change. Everything changes now.”

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