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March 1, 2010 at 7:56 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Michael Bowden and Aaron Bates

Today's edition of the series features a couple of players who slot at the highest level of the Red Sox system. Both look to have a chance to contribute at the major league level at some point in the summer and will be looking to round out their skills at Triple-A when the teams break camp in the beginning of April.

Michael Bowden

Position: Starting Pitcher
2009 Teams: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
2010 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 23

Strengths: This big right-handed starter is no stranger to followers of the Red Sox system. Featuring a heavy fastball that generally sits 88-91 MPH, Bowden effectively pounds the strike zone and exhibits excellent command with the pitch. He’s at his best when his fastball is darting down between the knees and thighs of a hitter. Bowden will also throw a 2-seam fastball around 87 MPH that tails away from right-handed hitters. A tough competitor on the hill, he’s shown a mature approach to pitching and an intense demeanor since joining the Red Sox organization. Bowden also throws an effective change-up that shows good fade, diving away from left-handed batters. His deception off his fastball with the offering makes it a tough pitch to pick up as it approaches the plate, and he uses it at any point in the count, enhancing his fastball by making batters respect it. In 2009 Bowden began working on a slider, with the hopes of adding the pitch as a featured part of his repertoire to give him another secondary offering that he can lean on ahead in the count. As the season went along, he began throwing the pitch more and more with confidence. The idea is to give him another look, especially against right-handed batters, and initial reports back on the pitch have been positive, indicating it is going to become more of a feature pitch in 2010.

Development Needs: Bowden’s 2009 season was a bit on the inconsistent side, and at times he struggled with his control, which had been a strength for him prior to this past season. It remains to be seen whether this was an adjustment period after being elevated to Triple-A, but plus control and command of his arsenal are something that Bowden must rely on to be successful in the Major Leagues, considering that his fastball is not overpowering and he doesn’t have an out-pitch right now that stands out as plus. His curveball shows flashes of being a plus pitch, but he’s been inconsistent with getting the snap necessary to produce hard bite and break. Bowden doesn’t miss a lot of bats and saw his strikeouts dip after spending a full season in Triple-A. Spotting up better with his fastball and then burying his secondary pitches to finish hitters off would go a long way to alleviate his dependence on hitters putting the ball into play to get outs. Bowden also gives up a lot of fly balls, and this had lead some to believe he will be home run prone at the major league level.

2010 Outlook: The Red Sox have already indicated that they will keep preparing Bowden as a starting pitcher during spring training, and he looks set to break camp with Pawtucket and pitch out of the team’s rotation with the pitching strength at the big league level. He’ll provide depth in the major league starting rotation and continue to develop his arsenal, particularly his slider, at the Triple-A level. Look for Bowden to improve upon his control, as that has been historically one of his strong suits and he’s been a player that has made good adjustments at every level so far. After seeing a couple of cups of coffee with the Red Sox during the last couple of seasons, Bowden should be in the mix for a contributing role at some point in 2010 due to the volatility of pitching. There is a chance that at some point this season he could be prepared for a bullpen role with Boston, but he’s starting 2010 as part of that ever-important starting pitching depth that every organization strives for.

Aaron Bates

Position: First Base
2009 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
2010 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 26

Strengths: Bates made good strides at the plate with Portland in 2009 after returning to Double-A for the second straight year. He previously had some trouble making contact, but with work centered on shortening his swing and improving his balance in the box, Bates showed much better contact rates in 2009 and produced a lot of solid contact during his time with the team. In 2008, he had a bit of a weak spot with pitches down and on the inner third of the plate, but shortening his swing enabled him to clean these pitches out more frequently and to take advantage of the extension he creates on balls out and over the plate. This is where he generates his power to all fields. Bates has an excellent understanding of the strike zone and exhibits a strong selective approach, which makes him a batter that works counts and goes deep into at-bats against pitchers. He’s shown the ability to draw a lot of walks during his time with the organization. With a solid lower body and overall strength, he’s capable of producing a lot of power and lift when he makes solid contact. Defensively, Bates has always been known as an above-average first baseman, showing good footwork around the bag and hands to scoop balls in the dirt, and his defense gives him value as a sure-handed player. A relentless worker and always willing to learn, Bates is a player that his teammates look to for support and someone the organization recognizes for doing everything to improve his game.

Development Needs: Bates has always struck out a lot during his career within the Red Sox system. Despite shortening his swing, it can still be long and loopy at times, and it is something that he is going to have to continuously work on to keep in check. Elevated fastballs, especially up and away, give him trouble, as he tends to chase them behind in the count, along with breaking balls outside and off the plate. After being promoted to Triple-A, he saw a dip in his contact rates and struggled with the advanced pitching at this level. Putting up strong power numbers in the low minors, the above-average power potential hasn’t translated at the higher levels. During his time with Portland to start 2009, it was apparent he was working on being quicker to the point of contact to produce line drives. Once he settled in he began to hit with more lift. The potential is there, but whether it is going to translate consistently will depend on how he can balance elevating balls and making consistent contact against elite professional pitching.

2010 Outlook: Bates will return to Pawtucket after spending time in major league spring training. Impressive in his brief call-up to Boston prior to the All-Star break in 2009, the Red Sox will watch his progression against big league pitching in the spring, and already know they have a sure-handed defender who can help them off the bench potentially at some point in 2010. Bates should settle in more at Triple-A this season and make some adjustments after his first stint at this level. How well he can improve his contact rates will be the key need to follow this season. If he can continue to be shorter with his swing while picking out the pitches he can extend on to generate his maximum power better, Bates has the potential to increase his power numbers in 2010 and be more of a consistent threat to leave the yard. 2009 was a good season of development for Bates after he seemed to stall in 2008 when facing competition more in line with his age. This season is shaping up as one to challenge him to make some finishing adjustments, adjustments that can make him someone the big club can look to for help during the 2010 season should the opportunity present itself.