Position: First Baseman
The 25th round pick of the Tigers in 2008, Nowlin has made his bat his meal ticket. Pushed to the NYPL after just six GCL games in his debut season, Nowlin hit a modest .236/.287/.365 in 49 games for the Tigers. The catch is, he ripped six home runs and five doubles, and only struck out 27 times.
The Tigers moved him up to West Michigan for the 2009 season and his bat did all the talking, making people wonder if the Tigers got a steal in the late rounds of the draft. Playing primarily as the ‘Caps designated hitter, Nowlin smoked the ball to the tune of a .311/.390/.483 line in the always offensively-challenged Midwest League. Nowlin drove in 77 runs with 29 doubles and 13 home runs.
Promoted to High-A Lakeland last summer, Nowlin got off to a rough start and only partially recovered. In 83 games, again mostly as the designated hitter, Billy finished with a .262/.344/.389 line. He did maintain his walk and strikeout rates at acceptable levels.
To help fill some roster voids in Erie, the Tigers bumped Nowlin up to Double-A for a 40 game trial in the season's second half. He got off to a roaring start, and finished with a solid .268/.309/.465 line backed by eleven doubles and five home runs. The only down side was the dramatic drop in his walk rate, working only three walks against 40 strikeouts against the more advanced pitchers of the Eastern League.
Nowlin is a good hitter with a solid-average hit tool and above-average power potential. He typically shows an astute batting eye and an ability to recognize pitches early, which makes his drop in walk rate in Erie a little easier to swallow. Nowlin doesn't have tremendous plate coverage, but he can reach balls on the outer half and drive them the other way. He is prone to chasing pitches up and out of the zone.
For all of his offensive attributes, Nowlin hasn't shown the ability to adjust that one might expect. To truly take advantage of his bat, Nowlin must learn to recognize what pitchers are trying to do to him and adjust his approach accordingly. Additional work studying pitchers may be part of the answer.
Nowlin has been dubbed "allergic to leather" by one pro scout that covers the organization. Drafted as a catcher, he doesn't have the ability to stick behind the plate, and he has not taken well to various stints in the outfield. He's improved some as a first baseman, but is still a below average defender with a fringy arm.
Nowlin's bat is his only big league tool, and for him to take off as a prospect, he will have to improve his overall approach to the offensive side of the game and develop an ability to adjust. Unless he transforms into a legit masher, Nowlin's big league potential is likely limited to that of a bench bat.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Nowlin has had minor back problems at various points throughout his playing career, but nothing significant enough to hinder his long term outlook.
Another crack at Double-A Erie is in the cards for Nowlin in 2011, and he will likely serve as the team's everyday DH again this year. If he can get acclimated to the higher level of pitching and adjust as the season goes along, he still has a chance to reach the big leagues.
With Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez locked up in Detroit, there is little room for his services on the big league roster, but if he hits enough he could fill a role on the bench sometime late in the 2012 season.
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