The Magic of Being Under the Radar
Throughout this entire Pirates minor league system, there are some very talented players. Some of them have been acquired through the draft with previous management, and others have been acquired more recently with GM Ben Cherrington and Steve Saunders at the helm. In the Pirate's top 30 prospects alone, according to MLB Pipeline, there is an even split between pitchers and position players, making it a very balanced system. If you look at FanGraphs, they also have an even split in the top 30.
I'm not here to talk about the top 30; I'm here to discuss two prospects who have been performing well enough to get some sort of recognition outside of your Quinn Priester's and Nick Gonzales's. The two players I'm talking about are J.C Flowers and Jase Bowen. Both have been performing better than I think many local and national media had previously thought.
As we all know, Flowers was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2016 in the 18th round but then decided to go to Florida State, where the Pirates drafted him in 2019 in the 4th round. Flowers was a bit of a two-way player in college, but the Pirates decided to make him a pitcher where he performed decently in 2019. Flowers had a very small sample size with just 29.1 IP in West Virginia, but he did carry an xFIP of 3.81, which showed he had some potential.
I can tell you from talking to Flowers last year during the MiLB shutdown; he seemed eager to put the uniform back on and show why he deserves to get that paycheck and respect. He's a very competitive, gritty, and fiery kid. The one thing that I was curious about with Flowers was that if the Pirates would stretch him out to be a starter, middle reliever, or something else. It seems to me that Bradenton was trying to make him a starter or at least stretch him out to be one.
So far in 2021, Flowers has proven to be in shape and ready for the teams opposing batters. So far on the year, his stats look like 21.0 innings pitched, 13 hits, 4 earned runs, 3 walks, and 27 strikeouts. His most impressive outings on the season have been his last two. He combined for 8.0 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 1 walk, and 10 strikeouts. One thing that I have been really impressed with is his strike efficiency improvement from 2019. In 2019 he threw around just 62% strikes, and as of now, he's at 71.3%.
I'm excited to see what this kid can do against high A batters now. I wasn't really shocked for Flowers when I heard the news he got the call up to Greensboro, but nonetheless, I was happy for him. I know under pitching coach Matt Ford, Flowers will continue to grow and develop his arsenal of pitches.
Bowen, like Flowers, was drafted in the 2019 draft. Bowen was drafted in the 11th round out of Toledo Central Catholic High School. He's one of those prospects that has gotten lost in the shuffle, considering his position. Bowen has played mainly at the second base position this year, and we all know about the stacked talent up the middle for this franchise. Naturally, people will talk about a Nick Gonzales before a Jase Bowen, but maybe we should start looking at Bowen more often. (Not that I think Nick Gonzales isn't a star in the making)
Bowen in 2019 had a less than stellar season with a wRC+ of just 81 and an OPS of just .617. Bowen's sample size in 2019 was minimal, with just 147 plate appearances, so we all should've taken his stats with a grain of salt. In rookie ball, you will be hard-pressed to see a guy with a lot of playing time, so 2021 will be the year we can fully evaluate what he can do.
So far in 2021, Bowen has become somewhat of an RBI machine along with coming up clutch in situations. As of right now, Bowen's OPS is up 216 points at .833, his wRC+ is up 40 points at 121, and he surpassed his RBI total of 7 in 2019 to 20. Those 20 RBI's ties him for Bradenton's top RBI getter as well as tied for the team lead in hits at 27.
Even though it's still early into the MiLB season, Bowen has shown vast improvement, and hopefully, his name is creeping into the crevices of your mind when you think of middle infield prospects. With both Nick Gonzales and Liover Peguero in Greensboro, I would be hard-pressed to see him make the jump to high A, but when/if Gonzales gets a call up this year, we could see Bowen get that call up.
As I finish this first article with my new site and try to shed some light on lesser-known talent, I encourage you to look at this Pirates team with a broader scope. This team is on the rise in terms of prospect talent, and I'm telling you, in 2023/2024, we could be talking about BUCTOBER again with these young kids!