The Boston Red Sox have two lefties in the minors with their careers potentially on the line. Both Trey Ball and Henry Owens simply need to find the plate.
The recent purge of the farm system resulted in some serious dismay within Red Sox Nation and the media. The demarcation lines were drawn where Dave Dombrowski eradicated the future by his wheeling and dealing. The other side of the line is the deals brought not questionable talent, but quality talent. With prospects you just never know. Two now are on the developmental edge.
With the seventh pick of the first round in 2013 draft Boston selected a tall (6’6”) lefty from New Castle High School in appropriately named New Castle, Indiana – Trey Ball. The Red Sox gifted young Mr. Ball with slightly under $3 million of the franchise’s money and sent him to the Gulf Coast League.
The immersion did little to impress as Ball pitched just seven innings, but a note of evil arose and that was six walks. The next season Ball started and finished with the Greenville Drive and their Faux Fenway field. The word out of the South Atlantic League was “mechanics.” When you see that word applied to pitchers the immediate response should be to glide over to the column that has a “W” emblazoned upon it.
Ball pitched 100 innings that season and issued 39 walks while disposing of 68 batters with strikeouts. The walk total was attention-getting, but certainly not alarming. Pitchers have “adjustment issues” and that usually means being able to command their pitches – 2015 and beyond would be disastrous.
The last two seasons have been all Henry Owens in finding the plate. In fact, Ball is physically very much like the enigmatic Owens. With Salem, the last two seasons Ball pitched 246.2 innings and issued 128 walks. Equally alarming is the 250 hits allowed as undoubtedly hitters were taking full advantage of favorable counts.
Ball started to produce better results in 2016 as his fastball gained some velocity, ranging from 89-94 mph with improved sink. His curveball has been unreliable, so he started experimenting with a slider last year that he since has turned into a cutter. His best secondary offering is his fading changeup, which he throws with deceptive arm speed. – MLB Prospect Watch
Ball has talent and it does occasionally surface. His fastball speed is improving and Ball does have a nice three pitch selection to his credit. The problem is simply one of placing all the pieces together with a level of consistency that one expects of a number one draft choice.
The comparison to Owens is eerily similar. Both have similar styles and – unfortunately – similar results. Owens continues to back pedal with his development and Ball has reportedly made strides in advancing. That I question. In the Arizona Fall League, Ball tossed 13.1 innings and walked 13. That does not instill confidence.
The Red Sox will move Ball on to Portland and Double-A ball – ready or not. Ball will take the mound as part of the rotation just as he has done at each stop. The training may be painful if the walks continue to proliferate. However, the good news is Ball is just 22-years-old and often a pitcher will have a sudden pitching epiphany and quickly blossom into what they were projected to accomplish.
Owens will also be in a similar mode – a mode of redemption. The door to Boston is barely open – especially for a left-hander and even more so for one whose inability to find the plate may result in a sudden open roster spot.
Both Ball and Owens will be under baseball ops microscope in 2017.