Jonathan Bowlan is an arm that really intrigued me heading into the 2019 season. Following a (failed) final playoff push with the original World Series Champion core in 2017, the Royals were in a precarious position with a depleted farm system, especially in terms of starting pitching. GM Dayton Moore made it a priority entering the 2018 amateur draft to replenish the starting pitching depth and, oh man, did he ever. The Royals ended up selecting college level starters with their first 5 picks of the draft, emphasizing the plan for a quick rebuild rather than an extended one. With the sheer future ace potential that Singer, Lynch, Kowar, and Bubic all have, it’s easy to overlook the fifth starter the Royals selected, Jonathan Bowlan.
I wrote a bit about Bowlan in a preview for the Lexington Legends’ rotation back in May, breaking down how he fared so far in professional baseball and also discussing where I’d like to see improvements in 2019:
“Next up we have the big 6’6”, 262 lb Memphis product, Jonathan Bowlan. Bowlan was selected by the Royals in the 2018 amateur draft after Bubic and wound up pitching to the tune of 1-4 record with a 6.94 ERA, 9 walks and 23 strikeouts through 35.0 innings in a shortened season with the Idaho Falls Chukars in Rookie Ball. A heavy college workload and arm fatigue led to a premature ending to 2018 for Bowlan but the extended rest seemed to place the big righty back on track for success in 2019. So far through 5 starts this year, Bowlan has a 1-2 record with a 3.41 ERA to go along with 38 strikeouts and 6 walks through 34.1 innings. Opposing batters have managed to hit 0.216 off him. Notably, Bowlan has not walked more than 2 batters in any game this season and also has only given up 2 long balls as opposed to 6 through roughly the same innings last year. Often times with big pitchers, it’s difficult to find consistency with so many moving parts but Bowlan has an easy, repeatable delivery that should help him stay in the zone. His arsenal consists of a low to mid nineties fastball, a plus slider with good break and a developing changeup to keep opposing batters off balance. For me, there may not be one thing that really sticks out for Bowlan but I think he does a lot of things well. I’m keeping an eye on Bowlan this season for consistency. I don’t think Bowlan’s ceiling is as high as Bubic, Cox or Neuweiler but I do believe he has a high floor if he can continue to make consistent quality starts. If he keeps it up, Bowlan can likely develop into a useful middle of the rotation type piece.”
A few things have changed since then, including a promotion to Wilmington and more notably, my outlook. I originally pegged him as a lower ceiling, higher floor type of guy given that he did struggle with the long ball and walks, albeit small sample size, in 2018. Since then, he has done nothing but refine his game as he continues to markedly improve in all facets. Now, let’s take a look at his body of work so far in 2019 that’s got me going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
Prior to his promotion to Wilmington, Bowlan posted strong numbers across the board showing that “consistency” I was hoping to see entering into this year. During his time at Lexington, Bowlan went on to throw 69.2 innings to go along with a 3.36 ERA and a cool 0.93 WHIP where batters only managed to hit 0.216 off of him. Over the course of those innings, Bowlan struckout 74 batters while only walking 10 and allowing 4 long balls. Although his 35 IP sample size from 2018 was relatively small in comparison, the improvements Bowlan made in Lexington are still significant. This year he’s nearly doubled his K rate and roughly cut in half his walk rate and HR/FB%. This coupled with his continually improving power fastball control earned Bowlan a promotion to Wilmington.
Moving up the system facing stiffer competition must mean some growing pains for Bowlan, right? Yeah, that’s a negative, ghost rider. Since being promoted, Bowlan has actually been even better. If you don’t believe me, check out what he did on July 15th: 9 IP, 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks, and 9 punchies. Hoya, Bowlan was an error away from a perfect game in this one. Now let’s peek at his Wilmington numbers as a whole. Through 7 starts Bowlan owns a 4-2 record to go along with a shiny 3.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Of those 43.0 IP he has posted 50 punch outs compared to just 4 walks while allowing 3 long balls. Even more impressive, Bowlan owns a 2.25 FIP and a 2.20 xFIP. I will note that in his two starts proceeding the no-no, Bowlan has struggled a bit, not making it past the 5th inning and allowing at least 4 runs in both. The good news is that in those outings the damage done against him was not due to walks. As of right now, Bowlan is the owner of a 10.47 K/9, a minuscule 0.84 BB/9 and 0.63 HR/9 all very impressive numbers for a young starter finding his way in the minors.
The thing that really intrigues me about Bowlan is his plus control and command. Often young pitchers posses electric “stuff” but struggle to command their offerings that lead them to be hit around or ineffectively wild. Bowlan seems to be quite the opposite. Although he is a beast of a man at 6’ 6” and 262 lbs, he has a smooth and easily repetitive delivery, not to mention a towering mound presence that allows his pitches to tick up. Furthermore, he is someone that can work deep into games while maintaining his velocity. Bowlan usually sits around the 92-95 mph range but can run it up to 97 as well. His advanced feel and control of the pitch has allowed him to dominate hitters so far in the minors along with a plus, sharp breaking low-80’s slider. He also has been refining a third offering, a changeup, that will only make Bowlan more devastating once he masters that pitch as well. If Jonathan Bowlan can continue on his current trajectory while improving his secondary offerings, I have no doubt that the Royals will have another future ace waiting in the wings.
Statistics courtesy of: Fangraphs, BaseballSavant, MiLB.com
Photo credit: Ryan Griffith (@ryanrgriffith)