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April 22, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Michael Bowden heads to Chicago in Byrd deal

Michael Bowden (Kelly O'Connor)
The long tenure of Michael Bowden with the Red Sox organization came to an official end yesterday when he was sent to the Chicago Cubs, along with a player to be named later, in a deal for outfielder Marlon Byrd.

Bowden, 25, had appeared in major league games with the Red Sox in each of the last five seasons, going 2-2 with a 5.61 ERA in 39 appearances, all but two out of the bullpen. From 2005 to 20011, he pitched in 178 games in the Sox minor league system, pitching 690.1 innings and winning 42 games.

Bowden was originally drafted by the Red Sox as a starter in the supplemental portion of the first round of the 2005 draft out of Waubonsie Valley High School in Naperville, IL. He was signed on June 23 for a bonus of $730,000 by scout Danny Haas, and was assigned the Gulf Coast League. There, he made four appearances, pitching six shutout innings and striking out 10.

The Red Sox challenged the 19-year-old Bowden with a full-season assignment to begin 2006, sending him to Greenville. He established himself over 24 starts, going 9-6 with a 3.51 ERA, striking out 118 and walking only 31 in 107.2 innings pitched. This performance, and Bowden's curveball, began to gain him some national attention, and he was ranked the #83 prospect by Baseball America.

In 2007, Bowden began the year by dominating the very difficult pitching environs of Lancaster, then a Red Sox affiliate in the California League. Making eight starts there, he had a 1.37 ERA in 46.0 innings, striking out 46, walking 8, and allowing only 1 home run. Considered in the context of Lancaster, where the team averaged 7.7 runs and allowed an average of 6.2 in the 2007 season, this was an even more impressive accomplishment. It earned Bowden, still only 20, a promotion to Double-A Portland on May 14. The youngest player to appear in more than one game for the Sea Dogs that year, he made 19 starts, going 8-6 with a 4.28 ERA. Baseball America ranked him the #94 prospect in the game after that season.

Bowden began 2008 back in Portland, and his second go-around in Double-A was much stronger. Making another 19 starts, he had a record of 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA, with 101 strikeouts and 24 walks in 104.1 innings. On July 14, he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he appeared in 7 games, pitching 40.0 innings, compiling a 3.38 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 5 walks. On August 30, his contract was purchased, and he made his major league debut that night, drawing the start against the Chicago White Sox. Bowden pitched five solid innings to pick up the win, allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, walking 1 and striking out 3. 

Hopes were high for Bowden, the second youngest player to appear in an American League game in 2008. He was named the SoxProspets.com Pitcher of the Year, and was ranked the #83 prospect by Baseball America, Bowden's third consecutive annual listing by the publication, but his prospect status gradually dropped over the next three years. The curveball that had been the key to Bowden's success to that point started to flatten out in 2009, and he spent the next three years going back and forth between Pawtucket and Boston. While he posted solid ERAs in Triple-A in 2009 and 2010, he strikeout rate had fallen off significantly, below 7.0 per 9 innings. Those two seasons also saw him make 22 appearances at the major league level, all but one out of the bullpen, compiling a 7.18 ERA in 31.1 innings pitched. 

In 2011, Bowden scrapped the curve entirely, and made the switch to a cutter. He also went into the season knowing he would be used exclusively as a reliever for the first time. With the move, his strikeout rate came back, getting 61 punch outs in 52.2 innings pitched, while walking only 18 on his way to a 2.73 ERA and 16 saves. However, this success did not translate to the major league level. He appeared in 14 games with the Red Sox, with a 4.05 ERA in 20 innings pitched. striking out 17 and walking 11. 

Out of options in 2012, Bowden made the Red Sox out of spring training but was used sparingly, appearing in only two of the team's first ten games, allowing 1 run in 3.0 innings. Needing an extra bat due to injuries, Bowden was designated for assignment on April 15, leading to his trade to the Cubs. The trade is something of a homecoming for Bowden - his hometown of Naperville is just under an hour southwest of Chicago. Per the Chicago Tribune, Bowden is expected to join the Cubs on Monday.