Today, we catch up with 2011 American Family Insurance ALL-USA pitcher Henry Owens of Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.), now with the Salem Red Sox of the Class A Carolina League. This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. We are digging into the archives and checking in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades.
Henry Owens has been making a lot of people look foolish lately, except for the Boston Red Sox, who drafted him No. 36 overall in 2011.
He was named the Carolina League's Pitcher of the Week last week. That was before he threw five hitless innings with nine strikeouts in a 5-1 defeat of the Potomac Nationals on Monday. He hasn't allowed a hit in his past 15 2/3 innings.
"I'm staying consistent and trying not to change anything," Owens said. "Four starts ago, I had two bad starts against Carolina (allowing eight runs over seven innings) and in those two starts, I was making adjustments on the fly, rather than staying with what was working earlier in the year. So, I kind of took it on myself, on my side (throwing) sessions to stay with my approach and carry it to the game. Hopefully, it keeps working."
The 6-6 left-hander throws a fastball that runs to the low to mid 90s, but he's also getting strikeouts with a solid change-up and a revamped curveball. He's 8-4 with a 2.78 earned run average.
"My change-up has been there all year and my curveball I've been working on throughout the season and I finally have a good feel on it probably my last three starts. Right now, I'm staying consistent with my mechanics and trying to repeat my delivery."
Though still thin, he's noticeably stronger and heavier than he was while pitching for Edison.
"Just doing the offseason program they gave us and just eating, man," Owens said. "I was 181 when I signed, I was 200 in spring training and now I'm 210," Owens said. "I think it's maturing. My metabolism is slowing down a bit and that's fine with me."
Owens turned 21 on Sunday, but is saving any celebration for after the season.
"I got in the hot tub and then went to bed, because I had to throw the next day," he said.
Though he was 12-5 with 130 strikeouts in 101.2 innings last season, his earned run average was 4.87. This year, he's striking out fewer batters, with 116 strikeouts in 97 innings, but he's also giving up far fewer hits with opponents hitting .182 compared to .256 last season.
"My first taste of pro ball, I was still getting my feet wet," Owens said. "I think my first five or six starts, my ERA was like a 21.00, but I had a lot of strikeouts. Then I started sacrificing strikeouts for earlier contact in the game and I learned how to pitch. I still have to master my fastball command. Everything comes off the fastball. You can throw a change-up off a fastball and you can set them up for the curveball, so once I master that, I think I will be fine."
Owens' battery mate is another 2011 ALL-USA player, catcher Blake Swihart, whom Owens played alongside with USA Baseball teams while in high school.
"He's been catching me since I was 16," Owens said. "He's got a great feel and a really good arm."
The Red Sox shut down Owens after he threw 101 innings last season at Greenville, S.C. in the lower Class A South Atlantic League, but he's already at 97 innings this season and seems to be improving.
"Last year, they told me halfway through the season that I would get to throw about 100 innings, but last year, you could kind of see the fatigue set in the dog days of July and August. This year, I see no fatigue. They haven't told me anything yet, so we'll see what happens."
Check out video of Owens — throwing a no-hitter, no less — in high school below: