Baseball is a 365-day proposition for Pirates' Bowen

October 13th, 2023

For , there is no real offseason.

After his first full season of pro ball in 2022, following a season that saw him play 125 games and finally get out of Bradenton and earn a promotion to High-A Greensboro, Bowen packed his bags and headed across the globe to play in the Australian Baseball League, adding another 140 or so plate appearances to his resume while playing with and against players with tons of experience.

“It was awesome,” said Bowen, currently the Pirates’ No. 27 prospect. “I had so much fun out there, being in Sydney. I’d always wanted to go to Australia, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Meeting some of the guys out there, kind of doing their culture and playing baseball against other Minor League guys out there, former big leaguers. It was a good time, meeting new guys and having those lifelong friendships.

“I think our best pitcher on our team was 46 years old, and he played in the bigs, just kind of learning from him, picking his brain. He did a lot for us out there. It was great just to have the opportunity.”

Bowen was given another opportunity to get better this year when the Pirates sent him to play for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League, where he got off to a 13-for-36 (.361) start with nine RBIs over his first nine games. It comes on the heels of his best season since the Pirates took him in the 11th round of the 2019 Draft out of Central Catholic High School in Toledo, Ohio. He’s always shown off an intriguing power-speed combination, but this year he posted his first 20-20 season, with 23 homers and 26 steals combined in 2023.

“It’s something that just kind of happened over time and it’s not something I try to focus on too much,” Bowen said of his statistical achievement. “My dad always tells me, ‘Just be the best athlete that you can.’ I happened to run into some balls this year and just had a lot of fun with the teammates. It was a good time. I was super happy I got to accomplish that and put that behind me.”

He was able to do it while also reaching Double-A for the first time. There’s still work for him to do in terms of his approach, something he’s undoubtedly doing in the AFL, along with continuing to get time at first base, and he knows it can help him continue to find success and enjoy the excitement he first felt when he reached Altoona.

“Some of the guys I started the season with were up there so it made it really easy,” Bowen said of the transition. “And my girlfriend lives in Altoona, too, so she was pumped up, probably more pumped up than I was. It was super cool to be there and have some hard work at the end of the year pay off and to jump me here.”

Pirates hitters in the Fall League

Jack Brannigan, 3B (No. 21): This was Brannigan’s first full year as a hitter only as he was a two-way guy at Notre Dame and he took a very nice step forward, finishing just a homer shy of a 20-20 season. He’s a terrific athlete who started getting some reps at shortstop, something that’s continued with Salt River in the AFL.

Carter Bins, C: Bins came to the Pirates in the 2021 Trade Deadline deal that sent Tyler Anderson to the Mariners. He’s been at the upper levels since, though a meniscus injury allowed him to play just 31 total games in 2023 (25 in Altoona). He’s mostly trying to get at-bats and reps to come close to a more complete season with the hopes he can compete for a regular role at the upper levels in 2024.

Pirates pitchers in the Fall League

Alessandro Ercolani, RHP: Striving to become the first big leaguer from the country of San Marino, Ercolani has swing-and-miss stuff. Just 19, he has a fastball that gets up to the mid-90s and a solid slider. Command and a third pitch are his focus points at this stage of his development.

J.C. Flowers, RHP: Flowers had made the move to a full-time bullpen role in 2022 and pitched well for Double-A Altoona that season. This year, his performance didn’t stack up and injuries kept him from really finding a rhythm. He’s a good athlete with a quick arm and lower slot who can show a sharp slider at times, one who is hoping to hit the reset button this fall.

Nick Dombkowski, LHP: A nondrafted free agent who signed after the 2021 Draft, Dombkowski has moved through the system as an under-the-radar performer, touching Triple-A this past season. He’s super-competitive and goes right after hitters. He’s getting multiple innings in Arizona because the Pirates think he has a chance to start with a decent three-pitch mix.

Cameron Junker, RHP: Almost exclusively a reliever since joining the Pirates, Junker saved 12 games with Greensboro in 2022 and pitched effectively with Altoona this past season. He’s working on refining his arsenal, especially an inconsistent slider that can miss a lot of bats when it’s right, in Arizona, with an eye towards competing for a spot in the Triple-A Indianapolis bullpen in 2024.

Tyler Samaniego, RHP: While Samaniego had an up-and-down year with Altoona in 2023, particularly showing inconsistent velocity, the Pirates think he has the chance to grow into a leverage role in the big leagues. If he can tighten up and add velo to his slider in particular, along with locating his fastball, he could use his late-inning mentality in the Pirates’ bullpen soon.