By Bill Sorrell
When pro scouts began showing up at University of Memphis baseball games this spring, Jonathan Bowlan’s teammates gave him a hard time, calling him “a draft guy.”
Taking the kidding in stride, Bowlan, a Bartlett native, would always answer, “We’ll see.”
They did see on June 4, the first day of the Major League Baseball Draft.
Drafted in the second round and No. 58 overall by the Kansas City Royals, Bowlan, a right-handed pitcher, was the highest U of M player drafted since Dave Anderson was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981.
“It was surreal and a dream come true,” said Bowlan, who hugged family members with joy. “It is a blessing, a tremendous achievement. I couldn’t have done it without the teammates and support from my family, friends and coaches.”
Bowlan is in Arizona in the Royals’ mini-camp and will be assigned to a rookie league team in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Burlington or North Carolina, or he will stay in Arizona.
Memphis Head Baseball Coach Daron Schoenrock called Bowlan being drafted as high as he was “very deserving” and great for the program.
“He definitely has the talents and tools to make it to the major leagues,” Schoenrock said. “Players drafted at the pick he was are definitely in the plans of the organization to make a push to be in the major leagues very quickly if all goes well for him.”
At Memphis, Bowlan learned more about delivery and how to stay mentally focused.
At 6-6, 255 pounds, Bowlan bulked up in the weight room. Getting bigger and stronger elevated his status.
“We all realize that not everybody gets drafted, but Jon is a great example of how a kid can come into a program and improve every day with hard work,” said teammate Colton Neel, a left-handed pitcher and right fielder. “He is a great example of working hard in the weight room and on the field and that hard work being recognized. I’ve always said that if he works hard he will get drafted, so it’s really good to see his hard work being paid off.”
With a fastball that topped 96 mph and was consistently in the 92-94 mph range, Bowlan elevated secondary pitches, going from a curveball to slider, and improved his change-up. He maintained looseness as he got bigger physically.
“His longevity appears to be a huge factor because of how ‘easy’ his delivery is and how repetitive his delivery has become in maintaining his velocity and stuff over high pitch counts,” said Schoenrock.
During this past season, Bowlan, a junior, struck out 104 batters, including 18 against South Florida on April 28. It was the most in school history, as well as in an NCAA Division 1 game in 2018. It was also an American Athletic Conference record.
Bowlan had a 3.71 ERA and 2-9 record while pitching 85 innings. He allowed 93 hits and 49 runs.
Projected to be a starting pitcher, Royals’ brass liked the way Bowlan attacked hitters, hitting his spots and being able to throw three pitches for a strike any time. As a pro, he will continue to learn how to pitch to hitters and become more consistent.
Schoenrock said, “His frame and body projects to be able to handle the heavy work load and toll that becoming a major league pitcher puts on your body.”
Said Neel, “I think with Jon and most guys that get drafted, the physical abilities are always there. What will set Jon apart is his work ethic and his attitude towards his teammates and the game itself.”
Crediting his faith, Bowlan said, “All the glory goes to God because I wouldn’t be here without Him blessing me in many different ways, from ability to family to friends to coaches. God has blessed me with a lot of talent.”
Schoenrock expects Bowlan to make an impact not only with his pitches.
“Jonathan will have an impact on everyone around him because very seldom does someone with so much God-given talent remain so humble and appreciative for all that he is given. He will impact every locker room he is in because of his work ethic and how he treats people.”
Schoenrock continued, “Jonathan is a follower of Christ. His faith is an important part of making him who he is on and off the field. He will impact people for Christ by how he lives his life.”
Throughout his career, including high school at Arlington and Bartlett, Bowlan remained humble. Teammates noticed.
Neel said, “It is always fun to see a guy like Jon go in the draft because of his humility. I’ve said it multiple times that the Royals are getting a great player but a better person.”
Bowlan signed his contract on June 5, his father’s birthday. His family is excited and wanting him to succeed, he said.
His father, Mark Bowlan, was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 21st round of the 1988 MLB Draft and by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 19th round in 1989. He pitched in the Cardinals’ Class A affiliates in 1989 and 1991.
Mark gave Jonathan advice.
“He told me it is going to be a grind and it will all be worth it in the end,” said Jonathan.