After running wild with 43 stolen bases in 99 games for the Asheville Tourists, the Low-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, Dexter Fowler had to step on the brakes.
The Alpharetta, Ga. native spent the past HWB season as centerfielder for the Waikiki BeachBoys, and his five-tool abilities helped him earn a spot on the HWB All-Star team. But, unlike his freedom on the base paths with the Tourists, Fowler managed just 10 steals in 33 games as a BeachBoy.
According to Fowler, it was not a matter of him lacking production, but rather a desire to be more disciplined.
"Getting on base and learning how to steal" were some of Fowler's goals during the winter. As were "working the count and bunting (for a hit) to get the defense out of rhythm and get everybody thinking."
At 6 feet 4 inches and 173 pounds, the 20-year-old switch hitter is regarded as one of the fastest players in the minors. According to freelance writer Bryan Smith, an expert on prospects and rating their potential, some scouts have compared Fowler to Chicago Cub great Andre Dawson. He also draws comparison to current Atlanta Braves centerfielder Andruw Jones--if he can polish and refine his skills and add a few pounds of muscle during the offseason to supplement his speed with more power at the plate.
Fowler's future with the Rockies looks bright, as the team can always use a strong defensive presence in center to patrol the spacious outfield in the thin air of Coors Field. He's slated to start the season with the Rockies' High-A farm team, the Modesto Nuts of the California League and hopes to be elevated to the Tulsa Drillers (AA) of the Texas League by season's end.
"I love the Rockies, and it's exciting to be a part of what they're doing," Fowler says.
If he plans on playing in the majors one day, however, Fowler needs to cut down on his strikeouts. During the winter, he fanned 30 times in 109 at bats--not the kind of numbers one desires from a speedster near the top of the order.
Smith says that Fowler had done a good job of shortening his swing with Asheville, but might have had trouble facing some of the Japanese pitchers in the HWB League. Fowler, who hit for a mere .266 average in the winter compared to .296 in the regular season, has a hard time hitting the breaking ball, and Japanese pitchers are notorious for "pitching backwards," or starting hitters off with heavy doses of breaking pitches followed by fastballs.
"I wanted to come out and work on fundamentals, and it was good playing against the Japanese players," Fowler says. "I need to continue getting better by overcoming challenges" through more game experience.
In the end, it will come down to Fowler's motivation to smooth out the rough edges of his game: is he willing to cut down the strikeouts and harness his speed so he can reach his lofty potential? Only time will tell, but it is clear that his time spent with HWB was well spent.
Fowler says: "Hawaii Winter Baseball was a joy to play in, and I'd recommend it to anybody."