Monday, September 13, 2010

John Bowker...Looking For A Gig

John Bowker was born July 8, 1983 in Sacramento, California.

The 27 year old attended Rio Americano HS, and lettered three times in baseball, twice in football and once in hoops. But baseball was his ace sport. He established school single-season records for batting average (.463), hits (41), homers (8) and RBI (41).

He went off to two years at Long Beach State (his roomie was Troy Tulowitzki), entering the draft following his sophomore campaign. Batting .323 in college, he was named to the first Team All-Big West after leading the LBSU 49ers to the NCAA Super Regionals in 2004.

Selected by the San Francisco Giants in the third round of the 2004 draft, Bowker signed quickly and began his pro career. Splitting time between the Arizona Giants and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, he played in 41 games and collected 63 hits in 170 at-bats for a lofty .371/6/27 line. He also picked up a rep as a 100%'er.

He spent the 2005 season with the High A San Jose Giants. In 121 games, he hit .267 with 22 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs and 67 RBI. In 2006, he played mainly for San Jose and had a cup of coffee with the AAA Fresno Grizzlies. Combined, he put together a line of .285/7/66 in 114 games.

Bowker spent all of 2007 with the AA Connecticut Defenders. In 139 games, he hit .307 with a career highs in home runs (22), RBI (90), doubles (35), and triples (6) while hitting .307. Bowker started 2008 in AAA Fresno, but not for long.

On April 12th, 2008, he made his Major League debut. With three hours sleep, he was thrown into the starting lineup, and he singled and hit a three-run home run, becoming the eighth player in San Francisco Giants history to hit a home run in his first game.

The next day, Bowker hit his second home run to enter the record books as the first player in San Francisco Giants history to hit a long ball in each of his first two MLB games. On July 2nd, he showed off his muscle when he bombed a "Splash Hit" home run into McCovey Cove in the Bay.

But after a brilliant first half, Bowker sharply declined as the summer wore on. He hit eight HR’s by the end of June in 198 at-bats, but only drilled two more the rest of the year. Still, he batted .255 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI in 111 games as a rookie.

His plate discipline was his downfall. Once pitchers saw he would swing at just about anything, they began avoiding the hitting zone religiously. His base on balls percentage in 2008 was just 5% and his strikeout rate was 21%.

On August 13th, he was sent back to Fresno, rejoining the Giants after September call-ups.

Bowker spent most of 2009 in Fresno, with a plan to work on his pitch selection. His walk percentage skyrocketed to 16%, elevating his OBP to a career high .451. He hit 21 home runs with 82 RBI in 366 at-bats, winning the Giant's Minor League Player of the Year Award and a MiLB award as the top AAA hitter. Bowker was recalled to the big team on July 9th, and only managed 15 starts, hitting .194/2/7.

The Giants planned to give the starting right field job to Nate Schierholtz out of spring training in 2010. But Schierholtz didn’t hit, while Bowker did. JB had team highs in home runs (six) and RBIs (22), and was batting .307 with a .384 OBP and a .627 slugging percentage in 27 games during camp.

So Bruce Bochy selected Bowker as the team's 2010 Opening Day right fielder. The show of confidence quickly dissipated. Bowker hit .207/3/8 in 90 plate appearances in 18 starts. Bochy is noted in SF for having a short leash on young players, preferring vets.

So it was no surprise when Bowker was sent down to make room for Pat Burrell on June 4th. The suits told him he going to Fresno to get some at bats, relax, and learn how to deal with not playing every day. Par for the course, he ripped it up in AAA, hitting .310/13/46 in 51 games. It wasn't enough to impress the G-Men.

On July 31st, Bowker and RHP Joe Martinez were traded to the Pirates for Javy Lopez. Bowker was assigned to AAA Indy, where he batted .319 in 25 games with four home runs and 10 RBIs. He was called up to Pittsburgh on September 1st, and hasn't shown much in limited action.

Radio station KNBR's sports host Tom Tolbert compared Bowker to the Bull Durham movie character "Crash" Davis, a veteran minor league slugger, after Bowker won his awards in 2009 but hit just .194 in the show.

Therein lies Bowker's problem. Many consider him a AAAA player, and his MLB line of .233/15/58 supports that view. Bowker himself was excited to come to Pittsburgh, because he thought he'd get a chance to start here. He felt like he needed regular at-bats to improve his production, and this is where he could get them.

But Bowker admitted that GM Neal Huntington told him the Pirates didn't have a concrete plan for him. That's pretty obvious. He looks like another trade made based on potential rather than filling a need.

Bowker plays the corner outfield and some first base. The Pirates already have a logjam in right, where Bowker would play thanks to PNC, with Lastings Milledge, Ryan Doumit, Delwyn Young, and possible darkhorses Alex Presley and Brandon Moss.

Ditto for first base, home to lefties Garrett Jones and Jeff Clement, with Steve Pearce lurking in the wings.

To pump up the degree of difficulty, Bowker looks the part of a platoon, not full time, player. He's hit only .109 against LHPs in the very small sample of 46 MLB at-bats, a trait he shared in the minors, though not nearly so strikingly. He doesn't run well and is below average defensively.

Bowker, Clement, and Pearce are all out of options for 2011. Milledge, Young, Moss and Jones had their options expire this season while Doumit is under contract. That's a heckuva lotta guys to roster for two spots.

And that's one weakness of this management team. They trawl for every lefty with a little pop that they can find, enamored by the Clemente Wall. So not only do they end up with a posse of similar guys that need a long look that they can't possibly get here, but the team also gets its head handed to them on the road. Dang, guys, find a righty hitter, OK? Lefties can't platoon with lefties.

John Bowker may be a minor-league hero, or he may be a guy that needs to get a season under his belt in the bigs, like Garrett Jones. But it's no sure bet that question will be answered in Pittsburgh; there's a lot of warm bodies vying for the same roster spot next season.


WilliamJPellas said...

Hmmm....I dunno that a four-A player would do what Bowker has done at the big league level. His line isn't great, but .233 with 15 home runs in less than a full season of work isn't terrible. But as you say, Ron, this front office---well, what you said.

Bowker at least is apparently healthy, which is not something you can say about Clement or Moss. If I had to guess, Clement will be on his way out of town as a non-tender, and Doumit will probably be traded. I'd say we'll see Moss back here as a fourth outfielder candidate (though he has the option of signing with another organization) and Bowker will compete as a bat off the bench. But it looks like his only real chance is if Jones is traded, something I don't think will happen.

Ron Ieraci said...

There will be some interesting choices to make after the season, Wil.

Personally, I think they keep Bowker and Presley, maybe Clement and Pearce, too (although Bowker/Clement may be a one or the other pick; Bowker's more versatile, Clement has more power).

I look for the Pirates to platoon Jones next year, either in RF or 1B, which gives Pearce a shot. And you're right; a lot hinges on what they do with Dewey, who I think they're showcasing, though there's a slim possibility they're looking to make him a platoon RF/C and get 450 at-bats out of him in 2011.

Moss was a 27 year old that tore up AAA pitching; my guess is that his window has shut. The playing time being allotted so far for the September call-ups doesn't seem to include him.

A lot of the guys they've stockpiled are reaching decision time, and the evaluations will be posers for the suits. They've left themselves with quite a dominoes match to play with. Where one falls will affect the others.