Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Prospect Check Up: Michael Bowden

The Red Sox recently announced that Michael Bowden, one of their more advanced pitching prospects, would be shifting from the rotation in Pawtucket to the bullpen. Coming in to the season, Bowden was among the best prospects in the Red Sox system, #8 according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), but outside of the top 10 according to Baseball America, perhaps due to his lack of upside. Given the fact that Felix Doubront has gotten a couple of spot starts over the last couple of weeks, it appears that he has leap frogged Bowden in the eyes of the front office. Bowden was ranked as high as he was due to safety; according to scouts, his ceiling is a mid to back end of the rotation starter, which makes it very hard for Bowden to crack the deep Red Sox pitching rotation. But he is one of the very few advanced prospects the Red Sox have, and coming into the season he looked like a useful depth player, but more valuable as a trading chip.

However, with the shift to the bullpen the Red Sox appear to be looking for ways that Bowden can contribute to the team this season. Bowden's numbers at AAA are excellent, both for this year (3.77 ERA, 1.1WHIP) and his career as a whole (3.39 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). However, Bowden's strikeout rate is pretty mediocre, sitting right around 6.3 K/9 for 2010 and his career in AAA. Knowing that strike out rates typically drop as pitchers move up levels, particularly when moving up to the majors, it is easy to see why the Red Sox don't view Bowden as a sure fire starter.

However, based on a study by Sean Smith (creator of the CHONE projections), switching from a start to a reliever typically increases strikeouts by about 15%. Considering how weak the bullpen has been this year, thanks to injuries and underperformers including expected 7th and 8th inning guys such as Delcarmen and Okajima, Bowden could play a major role down the stretch. That said, don't mistake him for Daniel Bard last season; Bowden doesn't have anywhere close to the strikeout rate or the upside, even out of the pen.

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