Slugger moving on up to Triple-A

Jared Oliva wasn’t about to sugarcoat how important Hunter Owen has been to the Curve this season.

The 25-year-old Indiana native hasn’t felt this confident at the plate since his college days at Indiana State, and his stats this season speak for themselves. He’s currently in the top three in all three Eastern League triple crown categories: batting average (.298, second), home runs (15, first) and RBIs (44, third).

“He’s our MVP,” Oliva said earlier this month. “The way he’s been going about his business this year, he’s really got a good understanding of what he’s doing each day. “

Oliva’s right — Owen undoubtedly has been the Curve’s best player this season. And he might just be the MVP of the Eastern League if the season ended today.

But the season is only half over, and if everything goes to plan, Owen will have just played his last game in a Curve uniform.

Owen has been called up to Triple-A Indianapolis, Curve manager Michael Ryan confirmed Thursday.

The move has been building for a while, as Owen’s hot bat has certainly been worthy of a call-up. But one of the things that may have been standing in the way is the amount of top infield prospects who receive regular playing time in Indianapolis, including former Curve players Ke’Bryan Hayes and Cole Tucker.

But on Tuesday, Owen found himself back in a position he hasn’t played regularly since college — right field.

“Our jobs here are to prepare these guys for the next level,” Ryan said after Tuesday’s game. “If he gets an opportunity to go to Triple-A or some day in the major leagues, to have that in his back pocket is very valuable to him. It will make him more valuable to our organization.”

“If you’ve paid any attention to the big league club, we’ve had a lot of injuries, a lot of guys going up and down, you never really know where the next spot is going to [open up],” Owen added. “Having that ability to play multiple positions and be a utility guy is very valuable and that’s something I really like to pride myself on.”

His chance in Triple-A has arrived.

“It’s more tools in my tool belt, and that makes me as valuable as I can be,” Owen said.

SUBHD: Starting to click

Oliva and Owen spent part of the 2017 season together at high-A Bradenton, and in the second half of the season, Oliva saw something different in Owen’s game.

“I saw it click the second half of last year.” Oliva said. “I had a feeling going into this year, he’s got that idea, he knows what he’s doing. He’s getting his pitches to hit, he’s playing great defense. I think that’s something people have taken for granted, almost. He’s made some spectacular plays, diving in the stands.”

But a simple boost in confidence and aggressive mindset at the plate may be the difference for Owen this season.

“The biggest deal for me has been to stay aggressive in hitter’s counts, and when you do get that pitch, not miss it. I feel like last year I had an issue with getting that pitch and missing it. This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to continuously get my pitch and stay on it and have a lot of success.”

The stats back up Owen’s claim.

When he’s been ahead in the count this season, he’s slashed an impressive .492/.608/.984.

“I’ve gotten a lot of help from (Jon) Nunnally, our hitting coach,” Owen said. “It’s going up there with the same approach as far as sticking to the same game plan based on what the pitcher’s throwing and not trying to do too much.”

According to Nunnally, Owen’s consistent, day-to-day approach has stuck out him while being around Owen this season.

“For him to be able to dial in and stay more connected throughout his whole swing, it’s going to open some eyes of a lot of teams,” Nunnally said.

SUBHD: A lot on the line

Before the season began, Owen had a lot weighing on his mind.

Entering the season at age 25 and as a player who would be eligible for the MLB Rule 5 draft at the end of the season, he knew this might be one that makes or breaks his professional career.

“It’s definitely a big year,” Owen said. “Being 25 years old, I’m kind of an older guy and a college guy. Approaching each day like it’s my last is very helpful for me. It’s also my Rule 5 year, so I don’t want to say that it adds pressure, but it adds just a little bit more importance to it.

“I think that I thought about it this offseason quite a bit,” he continued. “I’m glad that I did that in the offseason as opposed to now. Now is the time to go to work and have fun and play. Now do I think about that stuff? Absolutely not. I think you can find yourself burying yourself in a hole really quick if you think about that stuff during the season.”

Any offseason thoughts Owen had are clearly not affecting him at the plate this season as he’s raised his batting average nearly 40 points from last season, and through 235 at bats is already just three home runs shy of tying his total from last season in over 400 at-bats.

“This is a very important year, and I’ve been told by a lot of people that if you have success in this league, you should have plenty of success in Triple-A and then on, hopefully to the big league,” Owen said.

“It’s hard to say that I know for a fact that I’m ready, but with the confidence I have at the plate right now, I feel very confident that I can compete at the highest level.”

Next stop

Tonight: Altoona at Hartford, 7:05 p.m.

Pitchers: Curve LHP Domingo Robles (1-1, 2.78) vs. Yard Goats’ TBD

Record: 1-0 second half; 36-32 overall