Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Adam Loewen Career Retrospective Bonanza

It was announced last week that after suffering yet another injury, Adam Loewen's pitching career is finished. He'll try to make himself into a 1B/DH/OF to salvage his career, but he won't have nearly the upside he did as a pitcher.

Loewen was drafted fourth overall in the 2002 draft out of high school, three spots above Prince Fielder and eighteen spots above Jeremy Guthrie. It took forever for the Orioles to actually get Loewen signed, long enough for him to play one season of JUCO baseball. The present rules say that all draft picks must be signed by August 15th, but back then (back then? it was only six years ago) teams had a full year to sign draft picks. The O's finally got it done by giving Loewen a Major League contract worth over $4M in late May of 2003.

What that "Major League" adjective meant is that Loewen was immediately put onto the 40 man roster which caused him to be optioned to the minors every season, in effect accelerating his development schedule. In the end, the injuries are what did Loewen in as a pitcher, but he was, in my opinion, rushed through the minors too hastily based on how he actually performed.

Loewen was the prototypical great-stuff-no-control guy in the minors, walking an absurd 67 batters in 93 innings as a 20 year old in Delmarva and Frederick in his first full season. Spending the next season exclusively with the Keys, he walked 86 and hit 14 batters in 142 innings.

Loewen showed improvement at Bowie in 2006 and was soon pitching in Camden Yards. It was a fairly memorable debut in the rotation for Loewen as in his first four starts he was matched up with Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay in back to back starts, and then Tom Glavine in his fourth start. Loewen struggled, and then after a brief stint at Ottawa (his AAA debut), he came back and finished out the season in the Orioles' rotation, finishing with an extremely promising 13 start stretch. In that baker's dozen of starts, Loewen won six times, posting a 4.44 ERA with 66 K, 33 BB, and just 3 HR in 73 innings of work.

It was a fine finish for a then 22 year old Loewen, but the rest is history as injuries marred his 2007 and 2008 seasons. Loewen would make just 10 more starts before calling it quits as a pitcher. Sadly, Loewen won't go down as the biggest recent first round draft bust for the Orioles, or even particularly close - see e.g. Chris Smith, picked seventh overall in 2001.

Now he begins the long road to becoming a major league hitter. While the recent conversion of Rick Ankiel to a bona fide Major League hitter probably gives some the impression that Loewen could do the same, the odds are long. Even if Loewen were a third-round caliber pick, well, only five of the fifteen hitters drafted in the third round in 2002 have made the bigs (one of them being the immortal Val Majewski of the O's). Only Curtis Granderson, and to a lesser extent, Elijah Dukes, have done anything of note, and that's before accounting for the six years of development that Loewen has missed which others with similar skill did not.

So it's been real, Adam. See ya in 2012?

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