After his seven RBI game yesterday, John Bowker is leading all Spring Training hitters with 18 RBIs. That’s enough for Rob Neyer of espn.com to devote an entire column to Bowker’s chance of making the Giants out of Spring Training. I have to agree with Neyer: the odds aren’t good.
Neyer mentions Bowker’s “legendary” bad glove, which I’ve never heard about, although I probably don’t follow minor league baseball as closely as Neyer does. I don’t recall Bowker’s glove as being a problem during his time with the Giants, but one thing is for certain. He’s not the defensive rightfielder that Nate Schierholtz is. Schierholtz runs better and has a better arm.
One thing worth noting here: guys who hit well in the minors but can’t seem to establish themselves in the majors often get reputations for having worse gloves than they really have. In Bowker’s case, the reason he hasn’t caught on at the major league level is that he really hasn’t hit well after a hot start during his first season in 2008. He had a great season with the bat at AAA Fresno last year, but really didn’t hit at all in limited playing time in SF, a little like Todd Linden in 2005.
As hitters, Bowker is probably slightly better than Schierholtz at this moment. However, the Giants have considered Schierholtz more of a prospect for some time, and Schierholtz is the one who can play above-average major league defense in rightfield, the only spot in the Giants outfield that’s open.
The Giants may be trying to move Freddy Lewis, but if they can’t, he’s out of options, while Bowker has one left. This means Bowker likely starts the season in Fresno.
It remains to be seen whether Schierholtz will hit enough to hold the right field job, so Bowker may not stay in AAA long, especially if he continues to hit there the way he did last year.
Bowker’s biggest problem, however, is that he turns 27 on July 8, and he still hasn’t established himself as a major league hitter, even as a bench player. His 2007 at AA Connecticut, his 2008 with the Giants and his 2009 at AAA Fresno all suggest that he can hit. However, not a lot of leftfielders/1Bmen who don’t establish themselves as major league careers until age 27 have successful major league careers. It’s certainly possible — think Matt Stairs — however, it isn’t common either.
If Bowker can’t get himself up to the majors for good before the end of the 2010 season, he should give serious consideration to trying his luck in Japan. He’s certainly got the hitting talent to be successful there if he can make the adjustments to the Japanese game, and at age 27 in 2011, he’ll be young enough to have a long and successful career there if he gets out of the box quickly.
If Bowker hasn’t established himself on the Giants roster by the time the 2010 season ends, I’m sure at least a couple of Japanese teams will start nosing around him. The Japanese teams have gotten better and better in recent years at picking out players like Bowker who have the best chances of having a long-term impact in Japan.
In fact, Bowker is starting to look a lot like Todd Linden, who had a fine two-thirds of a season in Japan last year (.862 OPS) and is set to return to the Rakuten Golden Eagles this year.