- Ben Fawkes, NFL
When prompted for a major league comparison for star pitcher Henry Owens, high school coach Steve Lambright doesn't hesitate: "Randy Johnson."
While Owens personally likens himself to Cole Hamels, his physical stature and pitching prowess certainly resemble Johnson, as the Edison H.S. (Huntington Beach, Calif.) senior already stands 6-foot-5, throws left-handed and wears size-17 shoes.
Owens' physically intimidating presence on the mound doesn't determine his personality off the field, though. "He's real laid back, a funny guy with a surfer mentality," says Lambright. "But when he steps between the lines, it's all business."
That business-like approach has helped Owens dominate high school hitters. After going 9-1 with a 0.98 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings as Edison's No. 2 pitcher his sophomore year, Owens fared even better as Edison's ace this past season: He went 9-2 with a 1.67 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings. He registered double-digit strikeouts in eight of his 11 starts and led his team to its second consecutive Sunset League Championship en route to being named pitcher of the year in the league.
Those impressive stats helped Owens earn All-Orange County honors -- for the second straight season -- from the Orange County Register, third-team All-America honors and led ESPN's Keith Law to describe him as "the best prep arm in California" in his <a href="" target="new">first look at the 2011 MLB draft.
With such praise comes the added pressure of pitching in front of major league scouts and in big games; neither of these obstacles fazes Owens. "I don't really get nervous," Owens says. "I just try to not overthrow and give my team a chance to win, make sure to get ahead of batters and throw first-pitch strikes."
Why is Owens so effective? "He'll touch 90-91 [mph] on his fastball, but the ball has a fishtail on it. I think his biggest strength isn't just the velocity, but the movement on the baseball," Lambright says. "He can throw his breaking ball over, we're trying to teach him a slider and mix in his changeup. Any high school pitcher that throws 90-plus, there's going to be a lot of upside."
Major league scouts agree with Lambright. As one AL scout put it: "We all like big left-handers throwing 90 and above, it almost doesn't matter what else they can do, we're going to take a look. But this kid can pitch, he's got life on the fastball and he's going to be able to move the ball around the strike zone."
An NL scout added: "He's a three-pitch guy whose best stuff is in the future. He can throw all three pitches for strikes, is willing to throw all three, and his fastball can be from 88-92."
Although Owens' raw tools are impressive, he still has a few areas in which he can improve. Much like the Big Unit when he was younger, Owens' main problem has been with his control. Lambright notes, "As a freshman he was real raw. I mean he threw as many balls as he did strikes. He would walk as many guys as he would strike out."
Owens agrees with his coach: "When I was a freshman on varsity, I basically just caught the ball and threw it. I was kind of a thrower, but over the past two years I've really learned how to be a pitcher, to pitch spots and remember that there is a purpose to every pitch."
Scouts have noticed Owens' control problems but aren't concerned that they will be a problem in the future. Of more concern is Owens' tall and slender frame. As one NL scout noted: "Growing into his body is probably his weakness right now."
Owens continued his strong pitching playing on the USA 18-under national team this summer. He has improved his already high stock by going 3-0 in four starts with a 2.33 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 19.1 innings.
At the recent Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif. -- an event that draws some of the top prep talent in the country -- Owens pitched two innings, striking out six of the seven batters he faced. According to Law, who had a front-row seat, "[Owens] was 88-91 with a strong change at 78-79, but mostly just showed he can really pitch, and with a very projectable body he seems very likely to go in the mid-first round."
How does Owens feel about entering the 2011 MLB draft? "That's a long ways away," he says. "I'm going to take all my trips in college. I'm not saying that I'm going to college, not saying that I'm going to the draft. It's undecided right now."
Given that Lambright tries to steer his pitchers toward being drafted and his position players toward college, his response is less ambiguous: "If the money's there and it's the right situation, he'll go."
Regardless of whether or not he decides to enter next year's draft, there is plenty for Owens to play for in his senior season. After losing in the CIF Division I championship game his sophomore year and being eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs this past season, Owens has some unfinished business.
"My goal is to first win another Sunset League championship because we've won back-to back years," he says. "Then have it rolling in the playoffs and get a ring finally, because I've been on the team three years and I don't have one. I gotta get that ring."
Ben Fawkes is a contributor to ESPN Insider.
Pitcher Henry Owens likens his style of play to Cole Hamels, but his high school coach compares the 6-foot-5 left-hander to Randy Johnson.