Illinois prep star close to living dream

Illinois prep star close to living dream

As a sixth grader, Mike Bowden wrote an essay on what he wanted to do when he graduated high school. At 12 years old, he penned his dream: play professional baseball.

Six years later, Bowden is proving prophetic. A senior pitcher at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Ill., the right-handed flame-thrower could be drafted anywhere from the late first to early third round in next month's First-Year Player Draft.

According to his high school coach, Dan Fezzuoglio, the Boston Red Sox have scouted him the most intensely, and they hold six picks in the first two rounds. The Chicago Cubs, with the No. 20 overall selection, have also seen him plenty.

"I've met with every team and I'm starting to meet with them again about my signability and how much money I'll take and what I think about the draft," said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Bowden, whom scouts have likened to a young Roger Clemens in terms of his body type and athleticism.

"I've met with so many people. Time is a big issue but it's awesome. It's a lot of fun.

"It's great hearing them talk and say I have the potential to be in the Major Leagues. It's a little bit of development and they believe I can if they're going to invest that much money in me."

Bowden has gotten scouts excited with his 90-plus fastball and three other Major League-caliber pitches. He has dominated the Illinois high school baseball scene by going 9-1 with a scant 0.41 ERA and an average of 15 strikeouts per nine innings. He recently made headlines in the Chicago newspapers and waves among scouts by throwing a perfect game, striking out 19 of the 21 batters he faced.

In his only loss of the season, he tossed a one-hitter, with the run scoring on a sacrifice bunt and an error. He has allowed only 28 of the 250 batters he's faced to reach base.

Bowden has verbally committed to play for Arizona State University, but his heart is set on being drafted.

"I'd like to go to college, but I don't know. Playing professional baseball is Plan A," he said. "It is definitely what I want to do. I don't want to wait three years before I get another opportunity."

To assure that, he developed a fourth pitch this past offseason -- a changeup. He knew he could get by in high school with his fastball, but he taught himself a curve, slider and a change to be ready for the next level.

He's never had a pitching lesson in his life and the result is an uncanny knowledge of self. Fezzuoglio remembers when Bowden threw a pitch with a radar gun trained behind him and without looking, pronounced the speed at 88 mph. He was right on.

"The reason he's gotten to this position, of course, is God-given ability, but his determination to work on his game, to constantly work on his game and constantly strive for perfection," Fezzuoglio said. "That's a real strength of Mike's. It's to be better from one outing to the next."

Bowden is an affable workaholic who has taught himself poise on the mound in three years as a varsity pitcher.

"My sophomore year I got hit pretty hard so I just gradually learned how to pitch," he said. "I got a better concept of how to pitch to guys and how to hit my spots. I did a lot of work in the offseason and increased my velocity, which has helped a lot. With that and controlling my pitches -- that's helped a bunch."

Six years ago, Bowden wrote an essay on what he'd like to be doing in the summer of 2005. Standing near the Waubonsie Valley baseball field in late May, he offered up this verbal essay on where he'd like to be in the not-too-distant future, which goes beyond just being drafted.

"Oh, no, I wouldn't be happy with that. I've set the highest standards for myself," he said. "I could go second round but I'd be disappointed. I'll be grateful too, but I set the bar really high for myself. I'm not going to take anything for granted. I want to be in the Minor Leagues three years at the most -- I want to be up in the big leagues in three years."

Jim Owczarski is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.