Bowker makes adjustments, earns MiLBY
Prospect wins batting title with patient approach
In an ideal world, Giants outfielder John Bowker wouldn't have been up for a Minor League award of any sort in 2009.
Bowker had, after all, collected 326 big-league at-bats in 2008 and while he didn't set the world on fire, he held his own by hitting .255 with 10 homers in 111 games. He ranked among NL rookies in the top 10 in a host of offensive categories. He had a chance to win a job last spring, but would've needed to perform extremely well to stick. Instead, he hit .211 and got sent down to Triple-A Fresno.
The good news is Bowker stayed in the Pacific Coast League long enough to get the MiLBY for top Triple-A hitter. While he did pick up 67 more Major League at-bats over the course of the year, it's what he did with his 366 Triple-A at-bats that made him MiLBY-worthy: a .342 average, .451 on-base percentage and a .596 slugging percentage. He won the PCL batting title and OBP crown while finishing third in SLG (and first in OPS).
"I made a lot of strides last year in my overall game," said Bowker, who had 21 homers and 83 RBIs in 104 games. "Hitting, I made a lot of adjustments. I think I improved a lot last year."
More than anything, it was about approach for the left-handed outfielder and occasional first baseman. Bowker historically has been a very aggressive hitter. He'd hit decently for average throughout his climb up the Giants' ladder (now up to .301), but he'd never been big on walks or working the count. In 2005 and 2006 combined, he walked 73 times and struck out 208. This past year, Bowker drew 74 walks and struck out just 64 times.
"I just wanted to be more patient and be aggressive at the same time," Bowker said. "In 2008, I was too aggressive. Last year, I really concentrated on staying in my zone and being more patient at the plate. It's such a fine line because I'm an aggressive hitter. But I was always behind in the count. That's what I felt like in 2008, because I was over-aggressive.
"It seems simple to say you don't want to swing at bad pitches. But it's hard. I just tried to relax, go in with confidence looking for a good pitch to hit."
As striking as his willingness to change his hitting philosophy was, Bowker's attitude while back down in the Minors should also be commended. Turning 26 last July, it could have been easy for Bowker to sulk about not making the big club out of Spring Training. Instead, he got right to work.
"There were things I needed to smooth out," Bowker said honestly. "I wanted to make the team in Spring Training and that was my goal. When that didn't work out, I looked at it and said, 'Here's my chance to improve on the things I needed to.' I tried to look at it in a positive way and be ready for whenever they called me."
Bowker is hoping they'll call once again after next Spring Training. He feels more ready than he did a year ago after the adjustments he made during his season with Fresno. He's been working hard this offseason to be in the best shape possible for another audition, though a quad injury ended his winter ball after just two games.
Healthy now, he's already getting in shape to show what he can do. And that's regardless of if it means the outfield or first base, depending on how things line up especially with the recent Mark DeRosa signing.
"I think I'll be prepared. I've been working really hard on conditioning," Bowker said. "I'm ready to play the outfield. If they want me to play first base, I can do that. I'm staying ready for both positions."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.