FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good morning from the Fort, where the sun rising in another clear sky over JetBlue Park makes it inconceivable that New England is taking another snowy punch Tuesday.
Only days into his first week with the Red Sox in 2011, fresh off of being named Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year out of Edison (Calif.) High, Owens showed up in camp with his left ankle ballooned to an abnormal size. The immediate thought among Sox officials is he hurt it playing basketball or doing some other ill-advised activity.
It was much more innocent than that.
“I was in my sandals and I was on my phone outside a movie theater and someone was saying they were coming to [join us],’’ Owens said. “I was turning to the guys to say, hey, we should catch a later flick, and I rolled on it like this. I sat there and watched the whole movie, but when I tried to get up, my ankle was black and blue.
“I was embarrassed, but I just had to explain the situation. Not the right note to start off on.’’
It is one of the only missteps the 6-foot-6 left-hander has made in his rapid progression through the Sox system. A first-round sandwich pick who was a late sign in 2011, Owens attended instructional league that year but the following spring was assigned to Class A Greenville, bolting right past rookie league.
“He’s one of the very few kids we’ve done that with,’’ said Glenn “Goose” Gregson, the team’s Rookie League pitching coach in his 13th season with the Sox organization. “It’s because of his makeup. He rises to whatever level you send him. It was almost unanimous that he was ready to compete in Greenville.
“His makeup is contagious. People think, will he be overwhelmed. Obviously there will be some nerves, he belongs here, he honestly does. He’s going to impress a lot of people.’’
Owens already has. Last season was a revelation. He began the season in Class A Salem, but was promoted after throwing 19 1/3 straight innings of no-hit ball. He had a 2.92 ERA while striking out 123 in 104 2/3 innings at Salem, and had a 1.78 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings in Double-A Portland.
“Stuff?’’ Gregson said. “You’re talking about a left-hander that can pound the strike zone who throws a curveball and changeup. His ability to locate his fastball and his angle -- he’s a tall kid who can angle the ball down. He’s got a real good feel with his changeup, and his curveball is his third pitch, but right now it’s very close to a major league curveball.’’
One of the first things you notice about Owens is his calm self-assurance. You could put him on the mound in Yankee Stadium today, Gregson insists, and he wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
“Some guys you worry that they’re over their head, that you’ve pushed him too fast,’’ Gregson said, “but even if he had struggled, it wouldn’t have affected him. Mentally, he has a unique makeup. Talk to him, you see nothing fazes him.
“Yeah, he’s a California kid who loves to surf (“Body surf now,’’ Owens said. “Too big for the short board.”), but he has a love of the game. He respects the game, he’s a student of the game. He’s a kid who recognizes his place here, but the hope obviously is that he looks around and says, “I can do this. I can fit in here.’’’
Owens made great progress between his first season and 2013.
“I spent the entire offseason making sure my focus was on my fastball command, attacking hitters, staying in the strike zone ,’’ he said. “I thought I did a really good job in spring training and just carried over to the season and it translated. I thought that was really good.’’
And how’s that curve coming along?
“It felt great today,’’ he said with a smile, “so we’ll stick with that.’’