This past Thursday, the New York Mets announced a pair of minor league signings of right-handed pitchers Cory Burns and Ben Rowen. Rowen’s contract guarantees him an invite to major league spring training, a sign that the Mets might have legitimate interest in seeing what Rowen and his submarine style pitching can offer the club in 2017.
Rowen, 28, was a 22nd round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in the 2010 MLB Draft. Since then, Rowen has bounced around the minor leagues with different affiliates, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Milwaukee Brewers, his most recent team.
Rowen has spent minimal time in the majors since 2010, getting his first call up with the Rangers in 2014 for eight games, and then this past year with the Brewers for four games. The results were mixed, as evidenced by his 6.94 ERA and 2.06 WHIP, however, it’s hard to gauge those numbers since it was only done with 11.2 innings pitched combined.
His tenure in the minor leagues is a much different story. For his minor league career, Rowen has posted a minuscule 1.85 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 384.2 innings, recording 43 saves in 53 opportunities. The six-foot-four right-hander has also posted strong splits throughout his MILB career, including this past season with Triple A Buffalo, where Rowen posted a 2.03 ERA and .220 average against left-handers, and a 2.65 ERA with a .269 average against right-handed hitters. In 2015 with Double A Bowie, Rowen once again posted solid splits, 2.16 ERA against lefties and 2.33 ERA against right-handers. In total for his 2015 season, Rowen held opposing right-handers to a .545 OPS, and lefties to a .493 OPS.
Though Rowen’s fastball tops out in the low 80’s, his calling card is his submarine style pitching, and his penchant for inducing ground balls due to his sink on both his fastball and slider. Rowen’s posted at least a 60% ground ball percentage in 11 of 17 different stops along his career, including all minor and major league levels, and winter ball. Rowen has also posted a FIP under 3.00 in 13 of the aforementioned 17 stops in his career.
Rowen has been mastering the submarine pitching style for years now. In a FanGraphs interview conducted in February 2014, Rowen talked about the progression:
“I’ve been throwing submarine for about eight years now. Before that, my high school coach told me to throw sidearm. I think it was a good progression to throw sidearm for four years and then move down. Mechanically, it was easier than going from overhand straight to submarine.”
Add three more seasons to that eight year total, and Rowen has been working at throwing submarine for 11 years now, something that should appeal to the Mets since it appears Rowen is comfortable with his mechanics. With experience on his side, Rowen just needs an opportunity with a big club to showcase what he can offer over a full 162-game season. And that’s where the Mets fit in to this narrative.
The Mets have been looking to bolster their bullpen for 2017, especially considering closer Jeurys Familia will likely be suspended for his role in a domestic violence arrest in late October. The Daily News’ Kristie Ackert reported Friday that industry sources believe Familia will be suspended for at least 30 games next season, the same number of games Aroldis Chapman was suspended for to start the 2016 year.
With Addison Reed likely sliding into the closer’s role to begin the year, the Mets need to fill the back end of the bullpen and also look to retain LHP Jerry Blevins, who held lefties to a .636 OPS in ’16, and has also pitched with solid splits throughout his career. The Mets have balked at the free agent market thus far, seeing the likes of Brad Ziegler, Fernando Rodney, Koji Uehara, Mike Dunn, Brett Cecil, and Joaquin Benoit sign with other clubs.
Though there are some strong free agent names still left on the board, the Mets are always looking for undervalued or minor league deals for relievers. The market has risen over the past few years, where clubs are placing a higher emphasis on having strong bullpens, following in the footsteps of teams like the Giants, Royals, Indians and Cubs.
While the minor league signings of Rowen and Burns CANNOT be the only bullpen moves Sandy Alderson and Co. makes, Rowen does offer a ton of intrigue and should be given a decent look this spring in Port St. Lucie. No, he’s not Brad Ziegler, an arm many fans were pining to get, however, Rowen offers similar traits (sidearm, ground ball rate) and should be given a chance to demonstrate to the Mets what he can do to help piece their pen together for 2017.