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Do the Red Sox have a starting pitcher of the future? Well no other pitching prospect in the system looks as promising as this tall young righty. Michael Bowden could be a Red Sox middle-of-the-rotation starter for the next decade. Of course, Bowden is still just a prospect. Many similar prospects have come, impressed, and then faded into system, never to be heard from again. Then again, this may be the year Bowden earns his way to a starting job and bursts onto the scene. He is still just 22, so no one truly knows his potential.
Bowden grew up in Winfield, Illinois where he attended Waubonsie Valley High School. Like most pre-major leaguers, he dominated his high school competition. In just 80 innings he struck-out 172 batters at a rate of 19.35 K/9 and had just a 0.45 ERA. These dominating performances included a perfect game with 17 strikeouts in May 2005. One outing after his perfect game, however, Bowden’s draft value took a big hit.
Following Bowden’s perfect game he threw up a stinker, leveling out the view that he was a high level prospect. Prior to his bad game, Baseball America had him as the 38th best prospect in 2005. Now, according to SoSH wiki, most teams weren’t aware that before his bad outing Bowden had been paving his driveway as a Mother’s Day present. The present was exhausting enough to limit his effectiveness that night and ultimately hurt his draft value with most teams, except for the Red Sox. They had knowledge of the situation, and kept him high on their draft board.
In 2005, the Red Sox picked Bowden 47th overall in the supplemental first round. He appeared briefly in the Golf Coast League Red Sox that year at the age of 18 where he didn’t allow an earned run in 4 games.
In 2006 for the Greeneville Drive, he posted a 3.51 ERA over 107.2 innings (24 starts) while striking out 118 with a 1.13 WHIP.
The 2007 season was both a coming out year for Bowden’s talent and a test for a developing young player (still only 20). He started the year out in High-A Lancaster where he absolutely dominated, although only over 8 starts. He went 2-0 with 1.37 ERA, striking-out 46 and only walking 8 (a 5.75 K/BB). He was then promoted to Double-AA Portland where he had mixed results. Over 19 starts, he had an 8-6 record and a 4.28 ERA. He managed to strike out 82 over 96.2 innings while only walking 33 (2.48 K/BB and 7.6 K/9). Keeping in mind he was one of the youngest pitchers in the league, he competed well while managing his walks and continuing to strike out batters at a solid rate.
In the 2008 season, Bowden started the year in Double-A. After a stellar 19 starts where he posted a 2.33 ERA, keeping hitters to a .199 average and striking out nearly one per inning, he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. Considering he was 21 years old going into AAA, his pitching performance was very good. Over 40 innings he had a 3.38 ERA but most impressively he struck out 29 while only walking 5. So, for all of 2008, Bowden piled up a K/BB ratio of 130/29 (4.48 K/BB). Those numbers are really good at his age, showing he definitely has the promise of being a consistent major leaguer.
Bowden finished the year with a single spot start against Mark Buehrle and the White Sox where he earned his first major league win. After his start, the Red Sox shut him down to get ready for the 2009 off-season.
Sox Prospects offers thier perspective:
Bowden is a big righty starter with a top-of-the-rotation ceiling, presently projecting as a solid third starter at the major league level. He is an advanced pitcher for his age, but there’s some room for improvement. He has an arsenal of three pitches that could be big-league caliber: a 90-93 mph four-seam fastball that tops out around 95 mph, a very good 12-6 hard breaking curve, and an excellent circle changeup with plus potential. His main pitch – the four-seamer – has a late, heavy sinking movement, and he generally keeps it down in the zone. Bowden can also work in a two-seamer that is a few mph off of his four-seamer, with a bit more movement. His deceptive changeup sits in the low 80s, about 10 mph off of his fastball, with action moving away from lefties. His mid-70s curve is pretty sharp and he keeps hitters at bay with it. However, he can telegraph his curve on occasion. Secondary stuff is really coming along in 2008. Overall, Bowden has an excellent command of the zone. One aspect that should come with more experience is improved pitchability against advanced hitters. His mechanics are somewhat unconventional in that his delivery is quite compact and he doesn’t pull back with a lot of torque. Relies more on arm strength than leverage. But he’s able to maintain consistent arm action throughout his outings, so the Sox haven’t messed with it. Bowden is said to be a workaholic and just loves to pitch – another player who just lives and dies for baseball. Very athletic and competitive.
My view on Bowden is he’ll be a major leaguer who has to live and die with his control. His stuff is good but not enough to be the reason he succeeds. Ultimately he’ll need a consistent delivery, which he’s been working on, where he can then focus on location and working batters. He’s always had great command and has been a low walk guy, so he’ll never make trouble for himself by walking hitters, and that should help his consistency going forward.
The Red Sox starting rotation in 2009 is looking full with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and possibly a free agent all vying for a starting role. In 2010, Wakefield may be retired, Buchholz may be a bust, and Masterson may be in the bullpen (all of which could be true in 2009, too). If a free agent like A.J. Burnett enters the picture then it’ll get very crowded. This is the problem that comes with an organization like the Red Sox, who become so heavy in talent. There is no place for better-than-average major league players.
The best case scenario for Bowden is that he dominates AAA and sees spot starts for the Red Sox down the stretch in 2009, and during spring training of 2010 he’s able to compete for a starting job. If there is no room for Bowden in 2010, don’t expect him to be converted into a reliever because his stuff doesn’t equate to a smooth transition. So if that happens, he’ll best be used as trade bait. It’s crazy to think that cheap quality starting pitching is not good enough for the Red Sox, but this is their future.
ETA: Start of 2010
Potential Career Year Numbers: 200 IP, 169 K, 3.55 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 17 Wins