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Rockies pitching prospect Ben Bowden has stuff and pedigree, but no clear future role

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Bowden ranks in at 20 on the pre-season 2018 PuRP list

20. Ben Bowden (295 points, 27 ballots)

Ben Bowden’s destiny was to be the first player from the 2016 draft to hit the big leagues. Supporting that assumption was the fact the 23-year-old lefty pitcher 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. Unfortunately, a bulging disc in Bowden’s back got in the way of destiny and kept him from throwing a professional pitch in 2017. There’s been no word from the team as to what his current status is, which is worrisome but not unexpected.

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. He ended up in the bullpen in college and began there as a professional, but it’s not written in stone that he remains there, which is why he’s such an intriguing prospect.

In his professional action in 2016 with Asheville, Bowden threw 2323 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.

Here’s some video on Bowden from Spring Training in 2017 courtesy of FanGraphs:

A second-round pick out of college 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.

Despite his injury, MLB.com still has Bowden 16th in the system:

Pitching in shorter stints, Bowden operates at 92-95 mph with his fastball, which tops out at 97 and features late life and steep downhill plane. Though he only pitched 9613 innings in three years of college, he has impressive feel for a tumbling changeup that can be a plus offering at times. He has some power to a slurvy breaking ball that fluctuates between a curveball and slider and shows more promise as the latter.

While some scouts believe Bowden could make it as a starter with three pitches and a durable frame, Colorado will keep him in the bullpen and expedite him to the big leagues. He could be one of the first players from the 2016 Draft to reach the Majors, though his back issues have slowed his timetable. More than just a lefty specialist, he’s equipped to become a set-up man and could turn into a closer if he improves his slider and command.

2080 Baseball noted the following on Bowden in February 2017:

The former Vandy Commodore relies primarily on a low- to mid-90s fastball that he works well down in the zone and comes with solid downhill plane. His changeup has solid deception off the heater and comes with straight, late dive, while the breaking ball is a slurvy offering that should eventually tighten into an average slider. While Bowden has the build to shoulder a starter’s workload, batters have an easier time getting the ball in the air than one would expect given the solid plane off of which he works. That, combined with erratic control, could pose significant issues to turning over lineups at the upper levels, particularly without a dependable breaking ball to utilize against same-side bats.

The Rockies ran Bowden out as a reliever in 2016 but are expected to give him time in the rotation to start 2017. As a starter he profiles as a back-end arm, though his fastball and changeup could play well out of the pen – a role he thrived in as Vandy’s closer.

Both of those two reports opine that Bowden may be best suited to a relief role, though they differ on the organization’s plans for him.

Obviously Bowden’s injury derails the fast train to the Show and makes the starter or reliever question even more interesting. The way Colorado answers that question will help determine the ultimate impact of Bowden as a prospect. 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 in 2018 to see if he can handle the workload, but given the injury I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take the relief route.

Because of the uncertainty around him as to his role and the injury that’s kept him out of action in 2017, Bowden was a tough guy for me to rank. The combination of stuff and pedigree ultimately led me to place him 18th on my personal ballot.