Mailbag: Matt Bowman, Michael Conforto and Marcos Molina

Mailbag time.

And Matt asks:

 I see that Matthew Bowman has been very good at all levels and has risen through the Mets system very quickly. I have not though ever seen him mentioned as a prospect until very recently. How do the Mets value him and should we expect to see him in 2015?

Instead of speaking for the Mets (and remember, it is an organization composed of different people with different opinions on everything from bagels to baseball players), I will speak for myself. Bowman, the Mets’ 13th-round pick out of Princeton, has progressed rapidly through the system after beginning 2013 with Savannah. He made five starts with the Gnats in 2013, then moved up to St. Lucie. He began 2014 with Binghamton where he ran a 3.11 ERA in 17 starts. Now he’s generating a lot more interest after five good starts with triple-A Las Vegas where he currently boasts a 1.74 ERA after 31 innings. His last two starts have been particularly good: 14.1 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 16 K.

Bowman is a little right-handed pitcher, listed at 6’0″ with a mini-Lincecum delivery. There’s some rock back and lean in his motion as he seeks to maximize the leverage he creates. I have not seen him pitch in games since Savannah. At the time, he was mostly 89-91 with his fastball, which he located effectively. He’d throw a few harder earlier, but settle around 90 mph as his starts wore on. He began using a splitter instead of a changeup, which he had never been able to find the feel with. He’s a four-pitch guy with a slider and changeup. Jeff Paternostro at Amazin’ Avenue was relatively unimpressed by both the curveball and changeup earlier this year, describing a curve with a “hump” and a slider with a “short” break that is “cutterish.”

How has Bowman succeeded?

ERA R/9 HR% BB% SO% BABIP
2013 SAL 2.64 2.6 0 3.2 21.0 .301
2013 FSL 3.18 3.4 2.0 7.8 22.6 .283
2014 EL 3.11 4.1 1.7 6.5 22.1 .331
2014 PCL 1.74 2.0 0.8 4.1 21.3 .278
2014 Total 2.78 3.6 1.5 5.9 21.9

First, he’s kept the ball in the ballpark as he’s allowed just one homerun in 31 innings with Vegas. Second, as he’s risen through the system, he has allowed fewer walks per plate appearance. I am skeptical that this trend is “real” and he’s really a 4% walk-rate/Bartolo Colon-level control artist. Meanwhile, he’s still striking out about 21% of opposing batters, just as he has at every stop. However, some of his success in Vegas is due to simple luck on contact. His BABIP is fifty points lower than it was in the Eastern League. Finally, take a look at the second column – his total runs allowed per nine innings. It rose steadily from Savannah through Binghamton, adding roughly half a run in each stop. It has stopped rising in Las Vegas.

Count me as extremely skeptical that Bowman’s Vegas performance is anything other than a nice, short run, helped by some balls in play good fortune. When his walk rate rises, his homerun rate returns to where it was in AA, and his BABIP normalizes, his ERA will bounce up too.

In early 2013, I didn’t see the stuff to move through a Major League batter order multiple times with any degree of success. Unless his off-speed pitches have taken major steps forward, I cannot change that opinion. However, a middle reliever role is possible. Perhaps, in shorter one-inning bursts, he can work more at 92, and use his Princeton economics-major smarts and his full arsenal to get back into the dugout before opposing hitters start figuring him out.


Christian writes:

Hello! I was wondering when Michael Conforto will be promoted to Savannah. I am going to a Cyclones game on August 27 and want to see him.  And is it true [Marcos] Molina will be called up by the end of the week?

Well, Hello! to you too.

I’d suspect that your odds of seeing Conforto in Brooklyn on August 27 are pretty strong. At the moment, the Cyclones are two games up on the Connecticut Tigers for the NYP Wild Card spot with 11 games to play. The Mets like to see their affiliates in the playoffs, especially Brooklyn. I’d wager that the Conforto, the Mets’ first-round pick this year will stay with the Cyclones until they clinch their playoff spot or are eliminated. The 21-year-old Conforto, by the way, is hitting .307/.400/.412 in 31 games with the Cyclones. He’s popped six doubles, two home runs and drawn 14 walks, while striking out 20 times.

Molina is scheduled to start for Brooklyn on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to seeing him live for the first time. He’s second in the NYP in ERA (1.58), first in strikeouts, WHIP, batting average against and strikeout rate among league starters. Just 19, his last start before the NYP All-Star game was dominant: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 HB, 1 BB, 12 K. The reports from everyone who has seen him have been excellent. The funny thing about Molina is that a month ago, a Mets person said he was ready for another challenge. And yet he’s still in Brooklyn. Basically, a NYP team with Conforto and Molina should make the playoffs.

If Brooklyn looses five in a row or something, and misses the playoffs, I’m sure Conforto and Molina will both join Savannah for the Gnats’ playoff run. Until then, their job is to prolong the baseball season by the boardwalk on Coney Island.