Michael Bowden, once a hot prospect, struggled to find an opportunity in the major leagues, ending up as Marlon Byrd bait. How did this sad fate befall the righty with the odd delivery?
As established in the Lars Anderson review, this series has no size limits. In part this is because, well, however much there may be to talk about during the offseason, it's spread out over quite a bit of time, leaving plenty of gaps to fill.
The other reason, though, is that for however little time we see these players, some of them have much larger, longer stories with the team--be it positive or negative. And for a few of those, this provides the last chance to look at that story now that they've left the team for good.
As with Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden's story is about the fallibility of prospects. Unlike Lars Anderson, however, Bowden's story doesn't involve the neat hitting of a wall, but simply the slow death of stalled progression. Because where Lars hit Double-A and fell to pieces, Michael Bowden rolled right on through, and hit Triple-A running.
You might think for how few real chances he's had with the team, particularly as a starter, Michael Bowden's Triple-A performances must not have been impressive. Not the case. He put up a 3.38 ERA in his first 40 innings after being promoted in the middle of 2008, and then improved on that mark in a full season of work in 2009.
The thing is, after making one positive start in 2008 for the big league team, Bowden was pulled out of the Pawtucket rotation in the middle of 2009 in order to try and fill a hole in the big league bullpen. This, remember, was the year Manny Delcarmen fell apart and Ramon Ramirez broke down late, leaving the Sox scrambling to find someone for the seventh inning (Takashi Saito languishing unused in major situations for the most part). Bowden came up and was quickly sacrificed in his first game to a Yankees team that had already scored six runs off of Brad Penny.
Bowden gave up seven that night, and while he pulled things back together some in his next few outings, he was pushed suddenly back into a starting role on two days of rest. Toronto unsurprisingly found him quite hittable, tagging him for another seven in three innings of work, and frankly, that was it for Michael Bowden. You can pretty much draw the line there on the team's trust for him. He would always be the last resort out of the minors from then on, rather than the guy the team was raring at the bit to get a chance.
This, by the way, came when he was just 22.
Really there was a lot working against Bowden from the beginning. Overshadowed by Clay Buchholz in terms of hype, and then outproduced by Justin Masterson, it was too easy to make unfair comparisons from day one. Add in a funky delivery and a back-and-forth pull between starting and relieving which kept him from really settling into either role before it was too late. He made some more appearances for the team in 2010 and 2011, largely in unimportant innings, and then provided all of three innings in two games of mop-up duty in 2012 before being shipped to Chicago for the atrocious Marlon Byrd (hey, look, a sneak preview), where he provided Theo Epstein with 36.2 innings of 2.95 ERA ball, albeit with less impressive peripherals.
Whether or not Bowden actually makes something of himself long-term with the Cubs, however, I have to wonder if Bowden was a failure of talent, or of development. For every awful bullpen appearance, there was some story about Bowden's delivery being tinkered with and ruined and returned to normal. All the while, there's the memory of that first game in 2008. Five innings and two runs don't exactly make for an explosive entrance, but in that game Bowden looked better than we would ever see him look again outside of Pawtucket. His changeup missed bats, he hit the zone with his fastball, and his curveball seemed to hit its mark on the corner every time. Perhaps if he'd simply been left to be himself there might have been something more there.
Or at least something more than Marlon Byrd...