When I saw Baseball America‘s Matt Eddy tweet that the Dodgers had signed pitcher Ben Rowen and infielder Jarek Cunningham to minor league deals, my first reaction was “who?” followed quickly by “ha, ‘Jarek’ sure is a name.” With no inclination to worry about either, I quickly moved on. But then I started thinking that I knew Rowen’s name for some reason, and after a while, I remembered why. I’d seen a tweet from BA‘s Ben Badler in December, after Texas had DFA’d Rowen in order to make room for the return of Colby Lewis…
Somebody should pick up Ben Rowen. Low-80s velo, but strike-throwing, submarine righthander is a groundball machine. Useful bullpen arm.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) December 17, 2014
… around which time Brim had been posting this video in the comments…
…and, so, yeah, we’re going to spend a few minutes on a Saturday talking about the 6’4″ submariner who was named MiLB.com’s “Reliever of the Year” in 2012. Rowen, entering his age-26 season, was a 22nd round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2010, and he throws only two pitches, going with his two-seam sinking fastball 80% of the time along with a slider. He’s also got one of the most fascinating velocity charts you’ll ever see, from his brief time in the bigs with Texas last year: “Damn, that’s slow.” — Jamie Moyer, probably. Even better, BA actually wrote that “Rowen’s pure stuff might be the worst in the 2014 Prospect Handbook.” So how does a guy like that succeed at any level? Mostly because hitting against him looks like this…
… and former Rangers manager Ron Washington once said that Rowen’s stuff might actually be better than fellow submariner Chad Bradford, who had a nice big league career. Rowen finds success by throwing strikes (just 46 walks in 234 innings since 2012) and, of course, getting grounders, five for every fly ball in his minor league career. There’s a limit to the ceiling a guy like that can have, but I do enjoy how much Badler seems to like him, saying last year that “the arm angle and the heavy life makes it a nightmare for hitters to try to lift the ball against him. He’s going to get to Texas in a Darren O’Day or Chad Bradford type of role and everyone’s going to wonder where this guy came from.” Rowen himself talked about his arm angle in an interview with FanGraphs last spring:
Honestly, I’m not doing anything special. I’m just throwing the ball and the sink comes natural from that arm angle. I let the grip and the arm action do the work. I’m not pronating, or anything like that. I’m not doing anything besides staying behind the ball and releasing out front. That’s what creates the late action.
He also notes he’s working on a changeup…
I had a little success with it this off-season. I’ve been working hard with my coaches, trying to figure that one out. I throw it every now and then, but it’s not a pitch you’ll see a lot. I want to improve it and throw it to both lefties and righties. I know it will help me with lefties. I’ve played around with pretty much everything. Right now my changeup is a modified circle, but I’ve tried everything from a split-finger to a Vulcan. I guess a Vulcan would have made me even more unique.
…which is fun if only because I’m dying to see what a change would look like from a guy who only throws 80 to begin with would be. One more quote: Rangers blog Lone Star Ball didn’t seem all that thrilled that Rowen had been cut loose, saying:
Rowen, on the other hand, is a guy who the Rangers added to the 40 man roster last offseason. A true submariner who throws in the low-80s, Rowen was dominant in the lower levels of the minors, but getting his first taste of AAA and the majors this year, he was touched up a little more, although he still had a respectable 3.45 ERA in AAA, and 4.15 ERA in the majors. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone claimed him, if only to try to waive him later on this offseason and stash him in the minors. A righty who throws in the lower-80s is going to have to fight to prove himself, but Rowen is still someone who has a chance to have a major league career.
It seems like he might have a good sense of humor, too:
@sosgsosg ‘Bout 26 years — Ben Rowen (@B_Rowen) January 24, 2015
Now, it should be noted that Rowen was DFA’d by a team who had a lousy bullpen last year, and he did go totally unclaimed since no one wanted to use a 40-man roster spot on him. He’s an outlier, more likely to spend the entire season with Triple-A Oklahoma City than to ever make an impact on the Dodgers. (Particularly since Brandon League, while not a submariner, is another groundballing righty who doesn’t really miss bats.) But if you’re looking for a total unknown to root for, you could do a lot worse than this. Just think of the potential from Vin Scully trying to describe it, if nothing else.