EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 1, 2013

The Natural and his less known battery mate

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — The lanky 6-foot-6 southpaw Henry Owens — a first-round pick in 2011 — is dominating Double-A competition at just 21 years old.

His 23-year-old battery mate, Christian Vazquez, is a huskier 5-foot-9 ninth-rounder from the 2008 draft. He’s less well known but just as intriguing to some onlookers.

They are two of the Red Sox’ most interesting prospects.

Owens, who some consider the best pitching prospect in the organization, dominated at Single-A Salem this year. At one point he hurled 19.1 consecutive hitless innings over parts of four starts. He since has been promoted to Double-A Portland where he is 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in five starts.

As for Vazquez, his defense has always been his strength. But he has improved offensively this year. He entered Friday batting .289 with a .375 on-base percentage, five homers and 45 RBIs.

Here is a closer look at pitcher and catcher:

Henry Owens: The Natural

Baseball America ranks Henry Owens’ change-up the best in Boston’s minor league system.

Owens’ father never let him throw a curveball as a youngster for fear it would damage his son’s arm. Needing a secondary pitch, Owens learned the change-up.

He brought the heat much more than his offspeed pitch during his high school career at Edison High in Huntington Beach, Calif.

It wasn’t until professional ball when he began developing his curveball ... and using his change-up more.

So which of his three quality pitches does he consider his out pitch?

“My out pitch is my fastball, curveball and change-up,” Owens said in all seriousness.

You have to admire that confidence. Owens has worked a great deal on his curve with Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker.

“And I got a good feel for it and it’s played well up here (in Double-A) so far,” Owens said.

Owens, meanwhile, is a true California boy. During his offseason down time, he enjoys playing guitar, throwing the football on the beach and surfing.

“I don’t fit on a short-board anymore so I use a longboard,” Owens said. “I’m going to go a little more this (offseason) than I did last year.”

Christian Vazquez: Secretary of Defense

Vazquez said Portland hitting coach Rich Gedman and Red Sox player development consultant Dwight Evans have helped him become a better hitter this summer. Evans visited Portland earlier this year and worked with Vazquez and others.

Vazquez has tried not to think too much at the plate, limit the movement of his head and to hit to the middle of the field.

Drafted out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, he attended school there for two years. His day began with baseball from 8-11 a.m. and then he’d head to class before playing more baseball.

He is hoping to be a September call-up. He is on the 40-man roster.

“I’m very happy with my year,” Vazquez said. “I’m hoping something happens in September. I can’t control that. That’s not my job. My job is playing baseball.”

Vazquez has been catching since he was 8. He takes after his dad who caught in amateur baseball in Puerto Rico.

The 23-year-old was named Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, when he threw out 33 percent of attempted base stealers. This year, Vazquez has thrown out an impressive 47 percent (46 of 98).

“His quick feet and release allow his arm strength to play as effectively as it does, as well as allowing him to be an above average blocker,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said earlier this year.

Smitty’s top 5 prospects

Stats are entering throught Thursday:

1. Xander Bogaerts, SS: He’s with Boston now, but still is considered a prospect. The 20-year-old split time between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, batting a combined .297 with a .388 on-base percentage and a .477 slugging percentage. He also hit 15 homers with 67 RBIs, 23 doubles and six triples.

2. Henry Owens, LHP: See above

3. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF: His average has slipped to .276, but the 23-year-old has a .376 on-base percentage, .474 slugging percentage, 10 homers, 34 RBIs and 25 doubles.

4. Garin Cecchini, 3B: The 22-year-old has posted a remarkable .441 on-base percentage and a .908 OPS between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland.

5. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP: The 23-year-old is 10-5 with a 3.04 ERA in 24 starts between Double-A Portland (19) and Triple-A Pawtucket (5).

The 5 most underrated prospects

1. Christian Vazquez, C: See above

2. Alex Hassan: The 25-year-old is not considered a top-20 prospect in the organization but has batted .315 with a .429 on-base percentage in 217 plate appearances for Pawtucket.

3. Mookie Betts, 2B: The 20-year-old former fifth-round pick is batting .308 with a .413 on-base percentage combined between Single-A Greenville and Single-A Salem.

4. Keith Couch, RHP: The 23-year-old is not considered one of Boston’s top pitching prospects. But he is opening some eyes. A 13th-rounder out of Adelphi, he has a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Portland.

5. Brian Johnson, LHP: MLB.com ranked the 22-year-old as Boston’s 14th best prospect entering this year. He has a 2.48 ERA in 18 starts between the Gulf Coast Red Sox (2), Single-A Greenville (15) and Single-A Salem (1).

A look at September call-ups

Teams are able to expand their active rosters to as many as 40 players starting today. The Red Sox plan to add eight or nine players in September.

The Sox recently traded for Quintin Berry. Berry stole 21 bases in 94 games for Detroit last year. Both he and infielder Brandon Snyder could get the call today.

The Sox will likely add catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Two other catchers, Portland’s Christian Vazquez and Pawtucket’s Dan Butler, are on the 40-man roster.

Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. likely will stay down with the PawSox for their playoff run. He could add valuable defense and a left-handed bat.

Although longshots, PawSox outfielder Bryce Brentz and Pawtucket first baseman/outfielder Alex Hassan could be added for additional right-handed bats. Brentz, however, would need to be added to the 40-man roster.

Brock Holt could provide infield depth.

Boston will look for right-handed relievers already on the 40-man roster. Pedro Beato, Rubby De La Rosa, Steven Wright, Jose De La Torre, Alex Wilson (who is rehabbing from a thumb injury now) and Brayan Villarreal are possibilities.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB