Owens’ University Commitment Leaves Bologna Missing an Ace

After a superb run in the Italian Baseball League, former Pirates’ top prospect Rudy Owens has ended his season to return to university. Owens, only 29, earned a cup of coffee in 2014 and was in his first campaign in Italy, but will leave UnipolSai Bologna as they battle for the IBL title.

Owens burst on the scene with an eye-popping start to his Italian career, tossing 22 scoreless innings in his first four games, allowing only 15 hits and four walks, fanning 25. Through mid-June, his ERA was 0.50 in seven starts, including a start against bottom-of-the-table Padule in which he threw four perfect innings with seven strikeouts.

After his virtually unhittable performance through his first seven starts, he had a rough stretch in June that coincided with a poor performance in the Champions Cup in Rotterdam. Bologna’s ace lost twice to Curaçao Neptunus of the Honkbal Hoofdklasse (Netherlands), including once in the championship game, likely costing Bologna the title. Owens tallied a 5.73 ERA in 11 innings and allowed opponents to hit .326 off him in the Cup, though his 122-pitch outing in the championship game had flashes of brilliance.

Returning to Italy and likely suffering from the extra wear-and-tear, Owens then had a three-start stretch where he gave up 22 hits and 17 runs in only 10 innings, though his strikeouts and walks remained consistent. The left-hander righted the ship against Padova, the worst-hitting club in the IBL, firing eight one-hit, one-run, one-walk frames on July 14, whiffing a season-high 10.

Two more solid starts to wrap up his season leave Owens as one of the IBL’s top starters in his three months with Bologna. While his 2.73 ERA is only fifteenth in the circuit, he leads Italy in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.69, 1.69 ahead of second-place Carlos Quevedo) and is third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.09, with Jonathan Aristil in first at 12.43).

“For several weeks, the team was aware of a commitment that the player had with an American University, but it had been in some way suspended in recent years to allow the player to compete [in sports],” noted the Bologna’s official statement (translation by author). “However, the novelty was that, once his status was lower than professional, the suspension was revoked with an obligation to attend [the university] in the States at the beginning of August.”

Drafted out Arizona and signed as a draft-and-follow from hometown Chandler-Gilbert Community College in 2006, Owens was listed as a top-10 organisational prospect in the Pirates’ system in 2009 and 2010 and tabbed ‘Best Control’ among their prospects. The southpaw made his MLB debut in 2014 for the Astros, taking a loss in his only start. After five seasons in Triple-A, the southpaw landed in the Chinese Professional Baseball League to start 2016.

Owens inked a deal with Taiwan’s Chinatrust Brothers, but was released after 10 starts, over which he flashed signs of brilliance but was hit hard in the contact-heavy CPBL. The lefty was 4-3 with a 6.59 ERA, but ranked was leading the league in strikeouts (52) and among the top hurlers in innings (57 1/3) and WHIP (1.50). Owens then signed with the independent Somerset Patriots, striking out a batter per inning in 11 starts, but his 4.01 ERA did not attract any major league suitors, prompting him to depart the Americas for Europe.

The southpaw has a 7-3 record for a Bologna club that has flirted with first place all year and, currently, sits only two games behind leader T&A San Marino at 21-9. Carlos Duran had been signed as his replacement, but an injury will prevent him fulfilling his contract.

Kevin Senatore has suggested that Bologna’s new player may not be a starting pitcher, as Raúl Rivero is a candidate for the rotation. Rivero (3-0, 1.08) has thrown two consecutive scoreless two-inning stints and drew a start in Rotterdam. The 31-year old Venezuelan pitched for seven years in the minors, mostly in relief, but has started the past four years for Bologna and in the Venezuelan Winter League for Lara.

Bologna’s loss is cushioned as they host Padule (3-27) this weekend, but close out the season with a home-and-home set with T&A San Marino (23-7) that appears likely to decide the IBL regular season.

FIBS first broke the news (link) in Italian that Rudy Owens was leaving Bologna. Hat tip to Kevin Senatore, who provided a statement from the club. CPBL statistics courtesy of Brandon DuBreuil (link).

About Gabriel Fidler

Extra Innings UK covers baseball around the world, focussing on the sport at the national team level, with features on prominent players, scouting reports, and occasional breaking news. We are fully credentialled by MLB and have covered the World Baseball Classic, continental championships, and the U.S. minor leagues.
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