17. Ben Bowden (395 points, 36 ballots)
Ben Bowden seems destined to be the first player from the 2016 draft to hit the big leagues. After all, he was assigned directly to Low A Asheville after the draft and he threw out of the bullpen exclusively—two markers of a fast mover through the system. After being drafted early in the second round of the 2016 draft, Bowden signed for a slightly above-slot $1.6 million bonus after moving between Vanderbilt's rotation and bullpen during his collegiate career.
The now 22-year-old lefty ended up in the bullpen in college and started that way in the pros, but the Rockies have not ruled out a return to the rotation for him as soon as next year. At Asheville, Bowden threw 23 2⁄3 innings over 26 appearances for the Tourists with a 3.04 ERA. His 29 strikeouts in that time translate to a great 11.0 K/9, though his 5.7 BB/9 and 1.61 WHIP are worrisome—a .373 BABIP boosted the WHIP. Bowden held lefties to a .212 average as well, which is always relevant for a lefty reliever prospect.
A second-round pick typically has at least one major league-caliber tool, and for Bowden it's his low- to mid-90s fastball from the left-hand side. Importantly, Bowden is not a one-trick pony, boasting two secondary pitches and command that grades out as average as well. MLB.com ranked Bowden 67th overall pre-draft and had this to say about him when ranking him 16th in the system:
As a lefty with three pitches and a durable frame, Bowden has the ingredients to pitch in the middle of a big league rotation. His 90-95 mph fastball plays up because it has late life and steep downhill plane. He also shows feel for a sinking changeup and has a three-quarters breaking ball that fluctuates between a low-80s slider and a high-70s curveball.
Colorado is still undecided about Bowden's long-term role. Though he could move quickly as a possible high-leverage reliever, he also has mid-rotation potential and a fresh arm that logged just 96 1/3 innings in three seasons at Vanderbilt. His control and command improved steadily during his college career, but to make it as a starter he'll have to show that he can maintain a quality fastball into the late innings.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs is high on Bowden, ranking him 12th in the system:
Having spent the lion’s share of his career at Vanderbilt in relief, Bowden has a relatively fresh arm. He made five mostly mediocre starts mid-year for Vanderbilt before kicking back into the bullpen, where he finished the year. He pumps mid-90s gas with downhill plane and has a workhorse body but the quality of the repertoire suppresses enthusiasm about Bowden’s chances of starting in pro ball. His changeup flashes above average and could be plus at peak, but the slider would do well just to get to average and it may only play against lefties at the upper levels. The fastball/changeup combo should play in a relief role, but moving Bowden into a minor-league rotation to start 2017 allows Colorado to give it a chance to take and also allows Bowden’s pitches to get more reps than they would in a relief role. I ultimately expect Bowden to become a fastball/changeup reliever, and think it plays in a setup role.
The question of what the Rockies decide Bowden's path is going forward—starter or reliever—will determine in large part his ceiling as a prospect. In relief, Bowden has the potential to move quickly, a la Rex Brothers, perhaps as soon as 2018. If he's a starter, I think the more likely gestation period lasts into 2019. If he's a reliever, Bowden is an intriguing high-leverage option who would probably settle into a set-up role. As a starter, he's a potential mid-rotation guy. I hope Colorado tries him as a starter in Lancaster next year to see if he can hack it there.
Because of the uncertainty around him, Bowden was a tough guy for me to rank, but the combination of stuff and pedigree ultimately led me to place him 19th on my personal ballot. Currently I'd give him a 45 Future Value as a potential mid-rotation starter or late-inning reliever.