Prospect Q&A: Michael Bowden

Michael Bowden is rated by Baseball America as the number three prospect in the Red Sox organization.  A 20-year-old right-hander, Bowden was selected as a supplemental pick after the first round of the 2005 draft as compensation for the loss of Derek Lowe to free agency.
The 6’™3’™, 215 lb. native of Aurora, Illinois made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2005, appearing in four games.  He spent most of 2006 at Low-A Greenville, going 9-6, 3.51 in 24 games before earning a late-season promotion to Wilmington.  Bowden is expected to begin the 2007 season with Boston’™s new High-A affiliate in Lancaster, California.
Baseball America:  You’™re rated as the third-best prospect in the Red Sox organization.  What does that mean to you?
Michael Bowden:  It’s an honor, although having just finished my first full year I have a long way to go.  I guess what they see in me is what I see in myself: the potential to become a major league pitcher someday.  I think I made some real strides in that direction last season, both physically and mentally.  Bob Kipper, my pitching coach, taught me so many things I didn’t know about the game.  The year was a huge building experience for me.
BA:  Developmentally, what was the biggest thing you accomplished?
MB:  I think I improved in every aspect of the game, but repeating my delivery more consistently was a big one.  So was staying consistent with my approach.  Before, when I threw a bad pitch, I tended to react by trying to throw the next one harder.  I’™ve been learning to make adjustments instead.         
BA:  What are your primary goals for the upcoming season?
MB:  Mostly I want to build on what I did last year and just keep getting better.  I actually hated to have the season end, because things were beginning to come together and everything had started clicking.  I wanted to keep going.
BA:  Is improving your change-up one of your goals?
MB:  Definitely.  I’ve been throwing a circle, although I did mix up the grips a little last year — mostly in side sessions — trying to find what I was most comfortable with.  I did make some improvements over the course of the season, including with my arm-action.  I used to slow my arm down a little and try to place the ball too much.  Now I’m letting it go better.  It’s still a work in progress, but it’™s a pitch I feel confident that I can master.
BA:  Have you ever considered throwing a splitter?
MB:  I’ve thought about it, but haven’t talked to anyone in the organization.  I have a baseball by the side of my bed, and I pick it up and fool around with grips once in awhile.  It’s a fairly comfortable grip for me, so you never know.  If my change isn’t comfortable coming out of my hand on a consistent basis, I could see myself working on it at some point.
BA:  You have a very good curveball.  Tell us about it.
MB:  In a way I’m still learning it, as I wasn’t even throwing one a few years ago.  But I get pretty good spin on it, and a good break.  Consistency is the key, and as the year went on I was commanding it pretty well.  I was even throwing some on full counts and in fastball counts in general.
BA:  Do you change speeds on your curveball?
MB:  When I’m mostly looking to throw it for a strike, I’ll throw it a little slower with a bigger break.  When I’m looking more for strikeout, I’ll throw it harder — maybe break it into the dirt.  I’™ll throw a tighter one where I kind of just grip it and rip it.         
BA:  You threw a slider in high school.  Are you still throwing one, or have any plans to do so?
MB:  I didn’t throw any last year, and don’t really have any idea if they want me to.  To be honest, I’m not sure if they even know I used to have one.  It used to a good pitch for me, and I’m sure I could get it back if I wanted to.  It would give me another power pitch to work with.   
BA:  Where did your velocity sit last year, and how important is it to your game?
MB:  I was around 92-93 (mph) most of the time.  I’m not a guy who looks at his velocity very much, though.  If I’m hitting my spots, I’m usually going to get people out.
BA:  Your command is rated as being the best in the Red Sox minor league system.  Given that some people have questioned your delivery, and mechanics are big part of command, why is it so good?
MB:  I know that my delivery is a little funky, but I repeat it well.  At the pro level, you can’t get away with making bad pitches, so it’s important to stay consistent.  I do that pretty well.
BA:  Has the team had you make any adjustments in your delivery?
MB:  The only thing they’ve really done is have me move my plant-foot on the rubber.  I had been starting on the right side of the rubber and then moving over to the left to deliver the ball.  Because of that I was kind of flying back and forth, which made it harder to repeat my delivery.  They tightened that up, so I don’t have that extra movement anymore.
BA:  One of your two High-A starts was in the playoffs, a game you lost despite allowing only one hit and one earned run.  Tell us about that experience.     
MB:  It was a lot of fun.  I had a real excited feeling, because we were playing for something — it was more than just a regular game.  I definitely had my adrenaline working.  That’™s a feeling I try to get every game.  I like to go out there pumped, with a lot of energy.
BA:  You threw 119 innings last season.  How was your arm feeling at the end, and what are your expectations for innings this year?
MB:  My arm felt great all year.  I guess I was tired a little at the end, and maybe my fastball wasn’t quite as live, but my arm felt fine.  As for innings this year, I’m not sure.  They haven’t said anything, but I think the rule of thumb is something like 20 innings a year more.  It will probably be somewhere around there.     
BA:  You’ll likely pitch in Lancaster, which is a good hitter’s park in a good hitter’s league.  How much of an impact do you expect that to have on you?
MB:  It shouldn’t affect how I pitch at all.  I’ve heard it’s a good hitter’s league, but I’ll pitch the same there as I would anywhere else.  I’m actually looking forward to it.  It will help me learn to keep the ball down and focus on hitting my spots, which is what I want to do anyway.  And if I do get hit around a few times, I’ll just do what I can to learn from the experience.
BA:  You were teammates with Clay Buchholz most of last season.  How would you describe Clay as a pitcher?   
MB:  I was behind the plate charting for probably half of his games, and when he’™s throwing everything for strikes, not many guys are going to hit him.  His numbers tell the story.  He’™s got some serious talent.
BA:  His curveball is rated as being the best in the system.  Is it really better than yours?  
MB:  Watching him throughout the year, I would say his curveball is very flat.  I mean the spin is not tight and just doesn’t have much movement.  I’m confident that I could hit it out of the park, and I haven’t picked up a bat in a few years.  
BA:  Seriously?
MB:  No.  Just having some fun with him!  Clay has a good curve, but I honestly think that his change might be better.   
BA:  Of the guys you played with last year, who is the biggest sports junkie?
MB:  Blake Maxwell would have to be one of them.  He was my roommate, and knows just about everything.  I’™m not that great when it comes to baseball history, or keeping track of everyone in the big leagues, but whenever a name would come up, Blake knew about him.  Especially pitchers.
BA:  Sandy Koufax was as dominant as anyone in history, but had a relatively short career.  Ferguson Jenkins had a much longer career, but while he was very good, was nowhere near as brilliant.  Which of their careers would you rather have?  
MB:  That’™s a tough question.  I always want to be the best, so I kind of want to say Koufax.  I want to play for a long time, though, so I’™d take a career like Jenkins’™s.  I want to be winning games in the big leagues for as many years as possible.        
BA:  Would you like to spend most of your career pitching for a team with great defense and average hitting, or vice-versa?
MB:  I guess I’™ll take the good run support, because that would give me a little more of a cushion on the mound.  Actually, let me change that.  I’™ll take the great defense.  I like pitching in tight, low-scoring games.  It’™s easier to stay focused in a close game, so as long we win, I’™ll take that.
BA:  You’™re a big Chicago Bears fan.  If you were a football player, which position would you like to play?
MB:  I’™d be a middle linebacker.  That’™s what I played when I did play football.  Middle linebackers are involved in a lot of plays, and they have control of the D.  They’™re like the quarterbacks of the defense.
BA:  How would you compare quarterbacks to pitchers?
MB:  Every play involves them.  They make something happen with each play, and how they throw the ball goes a long way in determining whether it’™s good or bad.  If they’™re putting the ball where they want it, it’™s probably going to be good.  I’™ve never played quarterback, but that’™s how I look at pitching.