11. Ben Bowden (401 points, 21 ballots)
When Ben Bowden was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft, the open question was whether he’d be a starter or reliever (he served in both roles for Vanderbilt). If he was a starter he’d have mid-rotation potential and take a bit longer to make the big leagues and if he were a reliever he’d be a quick riser, potentially the first from his draft class to make the Colorado Rockies. Instead, he’s been neither, as a bulging disc in Bowden’s back got in the way of destiny and kept him from throwing a professional pitch in 2017. That scrapped hope of him getting a shot as a starter and allowing Garrett Hampson to race past Bowden to the big leagues.
After splitting his 2018 in a mostly successful season between Low A Asheville and High A Lancaster, Bowden was assigned to AA Hartford for the 2019 season. There, the 6’4” lefty quickly showed that he had mastered the Eastern League. In 25 2⁄3 innings across 26 appearances with Hartford, Bowden saved 20 games with a 1.05 ERA and 14.7 K/9 rate with a 2.5 BB/9 rate and 0.58 WHIP. That was enough to earn him a promotion to AAA in late June and a selection to the prestigious Futures Game which, uh, didn’t go well.
Albuquerque wasn’t easy either, as Bowden posted a 5.88 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in 26 innings across 22 appearances. During that time he had a strong 12.8 K/9 rate but struggled with command with a 5.9 BB/9 rate. The Pacific Coast League was crazy in 2019 and we don’t have a clear idea as to how to interpret its statistics for pitchers. Still, I’d like to see the 25-year-old lefty find some success at the level before he makes his way into Colorado’s bullpen. Even so, the combination of pedigree and results was enough to get Bowden added to the 40-man roster this offseason, so Bowden will be a contender for a relief role on the Rockies this year.
Here’s video of Bowden from a 2019 outing in Hartford, where you can really see the late arm side run on his fastball that is Bowden’s trademark:
He’ll aggressively go right after hitters with his three-pitch mix with an ability to challenge in all areas of the strike zone. He throws his fastball up to 97 mph downhill with good late life and his tumbling changeup is at least above-average. His breaking ball has been improving and is looking more and more like a tight slider.
That breaking ball will be a focus for Bowden and the Rockies think that once it clicks, he has the chance to be a true impact reliever. With his demeanor and ability to miss bats, he could be a valuable left-handed setup man when all is said and done.
Less optimistic was Baseball Prospectus, who dropped him down to 16th in their system rankings. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Bowden:
Bowden is in some ways the left-handed version of [Jacob] Wallace, all the way down to both being from Massachusetts. Bowden is the much larger of the two, and gets to his 95 mph heat a bit easier, from a slingy delivery that’s tough on lefties. He dominated Double-A hitters with the fastball and a potential plus tumbling changeup, although he struggled to have consistent feel for the pitch. There’s a slurvy slider as well. Bowden’s stuff is more low-end setup than high-end, with potential LOOGy risk, but he’s also close to ready for the Rockies pen, and continued to miss bats despite getting knocked around in the PCL.
FanGraphs was even lower on Bowden, dropping him all the way to 26th in their system ranking with a 35+ FV grade:
Bowden has rare lefty velo and we’ve seen a plus changeup from him in the past, but reports on the cambio weren’t as strong this year. He still projects in middle relief.
After a 2019 where many of Colorado’s relief arms didn’t get the job done, Bowden stands out as a likely MLB contributor as soon as 2020 given his 40-man spot and left-handedness. His struggles against right-handed hitters in 2019 (.343 BAA compared to .139 BAA for lefties) make him best suited at this point for a LOOGY role, but given the rule change for 2020 mandating relievers face three batters (or inning end), Bowden’s initial utility is decreased.
I value Bowden’s ability to miss bats with his plus fastball and multiple decent secondaries. He can handle more than an inning if necessary and is of course left-handed. Still, I’m not sure his impact on a bullpen will ever be as a late-inning guy at the big league level, which is why I ranked him 26th in the system with a 35+ Future Value tag.