BRADENTON, Fla. -- Of the four pitchers the Pirates cut from Major League camp on Saturday morning, Rudy Owens is widely considered to be closest to a Major League debut. And that debut could very well come in 2011.
Owens, the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year each of the past two seasons, will begin the year in the Triple-A rotation. His goals while in Indianapolis will be fairly straightforward.
The lefty wants to polish his mechanics, which he tweaked during fall instructional league, and solidify his offspeed pitches. Controlling the running game is an area where the Pirates would like to see some growth, too.
From there, though, it appears to be just a matter of time.
"I think if we can get a couple things down with Rudy -- and Rudy has shown an ability to do that relatively quickly -- then yes, I think that sometime this year, he could be ready," said Kyle Stark, the Pirates' director of player development.
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"Sometime this year, I will be ready, yes," Owens said. "I learned a lot from myself [these past two years], and I learned a lot from other hitters, by just observing the game while I'm pitching. I trust my mechanics and trust my stuff, and know that I know how to get people out."
A 28th-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Owens flew under the radar until 2009. His results that year were stellar -- 11-2 with a 2.10 ERA in 25 combined starts between Low-A and High-A -- and subsequently eliminated the anonymity Owens had previously enjoyed.
The Pirates challenged Owens by moving him to Double-A in 2010, and Owens hardly stumbled. His 2.46 ERA was the Eastern League's lowest, and he ranked third in the league with 132 strikeouts. Owens walked only 23 in 150 innings.
"I don't know what I was expecting," Owens said of the jump to Altoona. "I expected the best from myself. I can't say I expected to do well. But I knew that if I had my stuff and if I believed in myself, good things could happen."
How Owens fares against more advanced hitters in Triple-A will help the Pirates gauge how soon the organization should begin looking for a way to make room for him on the big league roster. A midsummer callup isn't out of the question, especially if the Pirates find themselves needing to fill a hole in the rotation
"Obviously, he has street [credentials]," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's got trophies. That being said, those trophies don't mean a whole lot in 2011. Rudy's pedigree speaks for itself."
Owens got his first taste of life with the big leaguers this spring after being invited to participate in Major League Spring Training for the first time. Before being reassigned to Minor League camp on Saturday morning, Owens appeared in two games for the Pirates.
In four innings, Owens allowed three earned runs on six hits and two walks. The results, though, were secondary to the experience.
"I've had a lot of fun out here," Owens said. "I've learned a lot from the older guys. That's what I came here to do -- I came here to learn and make an impression on Clint while I'm here. Hopefully I'll be playing for him soon, sometime this season. My main goal was to come here and learn how it goes and watch the other guys."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.