The Pittsburgh Pirates history as a lackluster organization is well known. Bad trades, ill advised free agent signings and a lackluster draft record have led to a series of losing seasons never before seen in pro sports. However, the Pirates appear to have found a draft bargain in Rudy Owens. With their 28th round of the 2006 draft they picked up a player who is now one of the premiere control pitchers in the minors.
The knock against Owens has always been that his stuff isn't of highest quality. Many prospect experts believed Owens was back of the rotation material due to a lack of dominating pitches. Despite two dominant seasons Baseball America left Owens off their top 100 prospects list. His fastball rarely topped 90 MPH and scouts believed his mediocre stuff would be crushed in the majors. Owens was clearly paying attention as he has seen an increase in velocity and now regularly sits at 90 MPH, getting it up to 93 at times.
Will the increase in velocity be enough to vault Owens into top prospect territory? More on Owens after the jump...
In his first two seasons as a pro Owens did little to make anybody think he would emerge as a top prospect. A brief stop in rookie ball produced a 5.32 ERA followed by a 4.97 ERA in Low-A in 2008. Then in 2009 he toyed with South Atlantic League hitters, giving up only 15 free passes in 100.2 innings. He was granted a promotion to high-A Lynchburg where he threw ball four to two batters in 23.1 innings. After all was said and done Owens had a 2.10 ERA over 124 innings between the two levels. He finished the year being named the South Atlantic League's pitcher of the year and the Pirates minor league pitcher of the year.
2010 would be a major test to see whether this was a one-off season or if Owens was a legitimate prospect with elite control. Owens didn't miss a beat and gave the Eastern League the ol' middle digit. He pitched 150 innings giving up a mere 23 walks for a 2.46 ERA and was once again named Pirates minor league pitcher of the year.
He lacks a plus secondary pitch, which may be the thing separating him from being a mid-rotation starter and a front of the rotation starter. Owens' laser-like fastball control makes his secondary offerings play up, though. He also does a good job avoiding the home run. With his command that means opposing teams have to score runs the hard way. With a Gold Glove defense behind him Owens would be very imposing. Unfortunately he pitches in the Pirates organization.
Due to his elite control he is at worst a back-end rotation type. Since he continues to improve it is looking more and more likely that the Pirates have one piece set in the foundation of a future rotation that could be one of the best in baseball with Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia also in the system. For fantasy purposes Rudy Owens doesn't have the ceiling of Taillon and Allie due to a lower strikeout peak. However, there is the chance that Owens develops into a master of command like Cliff Lee and becomes a fantasy mainstay. He is an advisable option in Dynasty leagues as he looks to at the very least have a future in the Pirates rotation. He should see time in the majors in 2011 with 2012 being the latest he should see the bigs.
Owens has allowed 4 walks in 18.1 innings so far in 2011. He has 15 strikeouts and a 2.95 ERA.