There was a time when few thought of Blake Owen as a professional prospect. Even in college, he had to work hard for his opportunities.
"I went to Vanderbilt for my first two years," Owen told Inside The Warehouse. "The first year I pitched about 30 innings and, then, in my sophomore year, I pitched about 11 innings. I had an end of the year meeting with my coach and he told me he didn't really see my role changing. He gave me the opportunity to look around and see if there was anywhere that I could transfer to and get more of an opportunity, or I could continue and finish my college career at Vanderbilt. I ended up talking with Belmont, which is also in Nashville and my brother played there, and I transferred there for my junior year."
All the headaches paid off for Owen when the Orioles made him their sixth round selection (183rd overall) in the 2005 amateur draft.
"It was awesome. I didn't know what to expect going into the draft. I wanted to get drafted, but I didn't have any expectations. I didn't know where I would fall or if I would even get drafted, so I was really excited."
Two years later, the 23 year old right-hander has come a long way.
"The pitcher I was when I first got drafted was sit back and see how hard you can throw it. If it was belt-high and I got it past you, it was OK, but you can't live on belt-high fastballs. I'm trying to get a little more movement on my fastball, I'm trying to work it down around the knees and I am trying to get ahead in the count."
"I throw three pitches- a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup. My slider is usually around 80-81 [MPH], my changeup is about the same speed, and my fastball is 90-91 [MPH]. I throw my fastball in most counts, but if I was ahead 0-2, I would probably throw my slider."
Although he worked in a high-leverage role last season, the Orioles feel that Owen and his three-pitch arsenal are better suited for long-relief. They even sent him back to low-A Delmarva, where there should be less pressure as he gets stretched out a bit more. Of course, Blake Owen isn't going to let that slow him down.
"As a player, you always want to move up a level. I had a talk with the coaches and they said that they wanted me to come back [to Delmarva] and work on a different role in the bullpen. They want me to work on getting my fastball down in the zone and be more consistent as a pitcher. You have to pitch well enough to impress the higher-ups."
"There are a lot of guys, especially right-handers, who throw 90-91 [MPH], so you have to bring something else to the table. I need to continue to throw my slider for strikes and try to get hitters to chase my off-speed stuff some more."
Despite a growing knowledge of the intricacies of pitching, Owen's goal for the season remains simple.
"Get as many outs as possible."
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com