John Bowker's spot on the Giants' opening day roster wasn't a guarantee when spring training opened.
With a minor league option left and players ahead of him in the pecking order, Bowker had to earn his way onto the roster. And it looked like at the beginning of the spring, if he was going be on the roster breaking camp, it wasn't going to be as a starter.
But things changed. While Nate Schierholtz struggled to get his swing going for most of the spring, Bowker was crushing the ball from the first pitch until the final exhibition game. His six homers and 23 RBI were far and away the best on the team.
On top of the power and run production, Bowker showed very good patience over the course of his 77 spring at-bats. Even though Bowker struck out 11 times, he was tied for the team lead in walks with 10—albeit a small sample size, a sign that his Triple-A numbers weren't a mirage.
Do these spring stats really mean much of anything? No, not really. But Bowker is getting this opportunity to be the Giants' starting right fielder because of what he did this spring.
The success Bowker had last season in Fresno, that he has carried into 2010, can be attributed to Bowker completely remaking himself as a hitter. Instead of swinging at every slider in the dirt or fastball at the letters like he did the last time he got regular playing time during the 2008 season, Bowker became a much more patient hitter.
It certainly paid off. To go along with his Pacific Coast League batting crown, Bowker had a shiny .451 OBP, 1.047 OPS, and 16.4 percent walk rate. That kind of improvement, even though it was in a hitter-friendly league like the PCL, is hard to ignore.
Could it be a flash in the pan? Possibly. Bowker's new-found starting gig could see him revert back to the days of swinging at sliders in the dirt with much regularity.
But at this point, it's hard to imagine him all the sudden turning back into the pre-2009 Bowker that never had a walk rate above 7.2 percent as a professional.
Having Bowker's bat in the lineup—for hopefully a prolonged amount of time—does improve the Giants offense. No doubt about it. His of kind approach at the plate is welcome in a lineup full of hackers.
He isn't going to have that kind of batting average as a regular in the big leagues. Nobody is saying that. But if he can meet some the projection system numbers of between a .270 and .280 batting average with an OBP of around .350, he will be a very good addition to the lineup.
If Bowker can prove to be adequate in the cavernous right field of AT&T Park, then his value will become even greater.
If he struggles in right, then there should be problem having Schierholtz once again become the regular in right field, shift Bowker to left, and have Mark DeRosa use that all-important versatility and play second base. It would allow Juan Uribe to assume the utility role that he thrived in a year ago and what he was re-signed to do.
Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy have praised their team's versatility throughout the winter and the spring. It only makes sense to use it, right? We'll see.
But at this point in time, though, the Giants can’t afford to not have his bat in the lineup. They need everything that Bowker is currently doing.
And for now, he has the shot to show what he can do.
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