Position: Outfielder/First Baseman
Nowlin was a non-descript Tigers draft pick in the 25th round of the 2008 MLB draft out of Golden West College in California. Drafted as a catcher, the Tigers have used him both in the outfield and at first base since signing. In his final season at Golden West, Nowlin raked to the tune of a .439/.510/.702 line that earned him Co-MVP honors in the Orange Empire Conference.
Upon signing, the Tigers let him get his feet wet in the Gulf Coast League that summer, as he continued raking at a .286/.348/.524 clip through just six games. The Tigers pushed Nowlin to short-season Oneonta for the remainder of the 2008 campaign, where he struggled to adjust to the more advanced competition of the NYPL. In 49 games for the O-Tigers, Billy hit just .236/.287/.365, though he may have tired after a long year of baseball.
Moving on to West Michigan for the 2009 season, Nowlin got his groove back and showed why the Tigers loved his bat during the draft. In 112 games for the Whitecaps, serving largely as the team's designated hitter, Nowlin posted a .311/.390/.483 line with 29 doubles and 13 home runs. Nowlin drew 37 walks over that time and whiffed only 67 times.
Given the difficult offensive environment of his home field, Nowlin's numbers look even better when normalized using the MinorLeagueSplits.com park neutralization tool. When his home park is factored into his numbers, Nowlin's line jumps slightly to .314/.397/.501.
Nowlin's season earned him post-season Midwest League All-Star honors, as he finished third in the league in batting average, and fourth in the league in slugging. His success didn't stop in the regular season, as Nowlin hit an even .500 in three post-season games for the ‘Caps.
Nowlin's only standout tool is his bat. When scouts are questioned about his bat, responses range from simple guttural noises and brief sayings like ‘Ugh, that kid can hit,' to more generous statements such as ‘He can flat rake. That's a big league hitter right there.'
Nowlin has the rare ability to hit for both average and power. He recognizes pitches well and understands the strike zone and his own limitations. He stays with the ball and can successfully drive the ball from line to line. He has quick hands and strength in his wrists, generating plus bat speed, and he beats the ball to the spot more often than not. Most of Nowlin's home run power is to the pull side at this time, but he has the raw strength to drive it out the opposite way as he matures.
Contact comes so easily for Nowlin that some scouts believe he needs to be more selective at the plate, waiting for pitches he can unload on. He lets the ball travel deep in the zone before attacking it, and he could really improve his production by simply being a touch more selective.
The difficult part of Nowlin's game comes in the other half of each inning, when he is sometimes asked to play defense. Though he's patrolled the outfield some the last two years, its not necessarily pretty. He struggles with his reads off the bat and his routes are a work in progress. His arm is solid-average, but he only profiles as a left fielder.
The Tigers have given him extensive work at first base over the last two years, and while he has improved, he is still pretty rough around the edges. He has just enough athleticism to move around the bag and be a fringy defender.
Nowlin's bat is his ticket to the big leagues, and he likely profiles as a DH-only type as he moves further up the ladder. In that case, he'll need to hit, and hit a lot, to get a big league opportunity; but that's not out of the realm of possibility.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A
Nowlin spent the minimum (seven days) on the DL with West Michigan last year with some back issues. I haven't heard of any long term concerns with his back, but that should always be monitored closely when there is a history. Though Nowlin has worked very hard to tighten and tone his body over the last 18 months, he will have to work to keep that in check going forward.
The Tigers invited Nunez to big league spring Nowlin will almost certainly be in Lakeland at a minimum in 2010, and there are growing rumblings that his bat may force him to the Erie roster to start the year. While it would be nice to allow him to develop defensively by moving one level at a time, his bat is likely to force the issue, in which case there is little sense holding him back given his long term projection as a DH-type.
Nowlin has the potential to be an above-average hitter in all facets of the game, hitting for a very nice average, knocking doubles and home runs, and working counts to draw walks. If the offensive game continues to come together as many believe it can, he could be a solid MLB bat sometime late in the 2011 season and certainly by 2012.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.