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June 11, 2011

The No. 4 pick that got away: Adam Loewen

Since we just finished up with the draft and the Orioles selection of high-schooler Dylan Bundy with the fourth overall pick, it’s worth looking at what another former No. 4 overall choice of the Orioles is doing.

You might want to hide the women and children before you look at this. It isn’t pretty.

Adam Loewen, whom the Orioles selected fourth overall in 2002 as a can’t miss pitcher, is now tearing it up as an outfielder for the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Keep in mind that Las Vegas is a hitters’ heaven and that offensive numbers are often inflated in the Pacific Coast League in general. Still, here’s what Loewen has accomplished in his first 55 games this year: .324 average, .387 on-base percentage, .590 slugging. He’s hit 22 doubles, two triples and 10 homers while driving in 42 runs and scoring 26. The right fielder also has four stolen bases.

In case you had forgotten, a little background: The 6-foot-6, left-handed Loewen was 8-8 with a 5.38 ERA in 35 games with the Orioles from 2006 to 2008. But he was felled by stress fractures in his left elbow. He could have tried surgery again in 2008, but there were no guarantees he’d ever be healthy. So he decided to try his hand as a hitter.

The Orioles took him off their 40-man roster in the 2008 offseason, expecting to re-sign him for the hitting experiment. But he received a call from one of his heroes as a kid, Cito Gaston, who suggested Loewen sign with the Blue Jays.

Loewen did on October 24, 2008, leaving the Orioles a little bitter, since they had spent so much time and resources (including a $4.02 million contract when they signed him) on Loewen during his pitching career. But, honestly, it seemed like such a long shot that he would make it back to the big leagues that his departure wasn’t a huge deal – even to a division rival.

Well now Loewen appears to be on the precipice of the majors. In fact, he might already be up, but the Blue Jays don’t have a pressing need in the outfield. They could, however, promote him to platoon at DH if they ever soured on Edwin Encarnacion.

The Toronto Sun’s great baseball writer Bob Elliott (a Hall of Famer in the near future) talked to several Canadian baseball people who knew Loewen way back when and passed on the following info and quotes to me. And I pass them to you.

Here you go:

“What he’s so close to accomplishing now, getting back to the majors as a hitter, is more impressive than going in the first round as a pitcher,” said Walt Burrows, Canadian director of the Major League Scouting Bureau. “It’s so much easier going from hitter to a pitcher.”

“Kudos to the Jays for giving him the chance,” Burrows said. “He wasn’t successful right away, he hung with it, especially going from the majors to Dunedin (the Jays’ minor league facility).”

Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, coached Loewen for three years with the junior team.

“He was the best high school player in the world,” said Hamilton. “I truly believe he would have been a first rounder as a hitter and position player if he decided not to pitch in high school.
He played the game with an incredible ease.”

At the 2002 World Junior championships, Loewen played right field -- the Orioles did not want him to pitch -- and hit .713.

Burrows’ job is to examine and dissect a player, grade him and place an overall future potential (OFP) number to give to his bosses.

“I’m not telling you what the number was, but it’s the highest I’ve ever put on a player,” Burrows said. “Adam was 6-foot-5, 215 pounds out of high school, a good hockey and
volleyball player, very athletic. It’s really rare to see guys with speed, size and strength. He was blessed.”

From the time he came to Baltimore as a new draftee, Loewen was a respectful, nice kid. I know he didn’t leave on the greatest of terms, but it is hard not to pull – at least a little -- for his comeback story.

Do you agree?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:00 AM | | Comments (38)


The kid has to make a living. The Jays presented a great opportunity, he grew up in Canada. The Orioles left him unprotected. He never complained about any of it. How can you blame the kid? I say good for him!

I just hope they put one in between his shoulder blades the first time he faces them. After that, good luck to him.

I agree and am pulling for him and anyone else who gets what should be the ultimate personal disappointment but adjusts and comes back strong rather than succumb to self-loathing and self-pity.

While it's easy to talk about what we "invested" in him, the truth is that he performed to the best of his ability under his contracts with the Orioles. Once the contract is up, he was free to try to his comeback experiment however he wanted.

Maybe he just figured he'd rather struggle at the plate with Toronto's Vancouver minor league team (he's from British Columbia) than in Salisbury, Bowie and Frederick.

No, I don't agree, and here's why. The O's were willing to give him a shot as a hitter, when they technically didn't have to. They invested alot of money in this guy, and then he stabs them in the back. Personally, I hope he flops if he gets back to the majors, and I hope Zach Britton, and Jake Arrieta, and the rest of the guys dominate him if they ever face him.

I'm happy for him, but completely shocked to be reading this. I remember his stats during his first couple seasons of this hitting "experiment" and they were god awful. I figured that was all she wrote for his chances of making it back to the big leagues (unless he were to decide to take up pitching again). Shows how much I know...

It's hard to really care about what he does as a minor leaguer at this point in his career. He has been playing minor league ball or been injured for almost 9 years of his professional career. He could be playing for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and people shouldn't care. Unless he comes up to the Jays and hits .330 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, O's fans shouldn't worry about the 2002 pick that never was. We should be more worried about the more recent pathetic picks like Matt Hobgood when everyone knew he was a reach the day he was drafted. Let's get Bundy signed and keep building this team. I have a feeling that the O's will go into next season with two 1st round picks....

Not sure why all the hate directed toward Adam. He was a humble and decent young man who always did he best. After a tough break he is working hard to play the sport that he loves. Not just in a beer league but at its highest level. What's not to like what's not to cheer for.

Who cares? The O's could've and should've drafted Prince Fielder that year.

I recall reading about the guy belting the ball out of Tiger Stadium as a 12 year old.

O's didn't pick him because they knew he'd cost a mint to sign.

I agree totally with mark. I don't care who he grew up rooting for, he owed the Orioles something at that point. The right thing was to stay in the Os organization, and I'm not pulling for him, even a little.

I saw him that first season in Dunedin and he didn't look like he was going to make it as a hitter. Glad he's doing well.

He was a good kid when he was here. Sure, he didn't leave on the best of terms, but the O's shouldn't have removed him from the roster in the first place. They decided to make him a free agent, and his hometown team called. I'm from B-more, and if I was in another city in his spot and the O's called me, I'd jump on the chance to play at home.

Hate towards him does nothing. He didn't work out for the O's. That's fine, but don't wish ill on a good kid. He never uttered a bad word about the O's. And he never gave less than his all.

Jeff Z's reply: The Orioles had to remove him from the roster so he could go down to the minor leagues and start working on his transition to a hitter. There was no choice in the matter due to his contract status. The Orioles thought that they had it all worked out with his agent, only to hear differently because Loewen was swayed by the Blue Jays. He was always one of my favorite players to deal with and I thought if he stayed healthy, he was going to be a legit top to middle of rotation guy. But the Orioles didn't do anything wrong here. They went above and beyond for the kid, keeping him on the big league roster as long as possible so he got meal money, service time, etc. They asked then big league hitting coach Terry Crowley to come in early for almost a week straight on the homestand to work with Loewen. Not to mention they invested a ton of $$ and time into the kid and his development. So let's make no mistake here, this one was on Loewen. He obviously got to play where he wanted to, but he burned a ton of bridges and lost a lot of support on the way out.

I wasn't going to comment on this because while I followed the O's during those years when Adam was with the team I just wasn't as passionate as I am now. Now comments
Look, the O's lost some time and money with this guy. The Yankees lost the same thing with Joba Chamberlain. His career might be over. If Adam makes a comeback so be it, Rick Ankiel continued his comeback with other teams. So my feeling on Adam is be happy for him. Because, even if he still were with the O's, where would he play? There's a huge log jam in our outfield right now so Adam would be jammed up with us as well.

I see someone mentioned Prince Fielder again and I am tired of it. If he put it out at Tiger stadium wonderful! He also must have been talking to his father back then for him to been able to do that. He doesn't talk to his father anymore! Prince's personality is not a good fit in Baltimore. I would love to find a current ball player with Brooks Robinson's personality rather then Prince's,. Speaking of Brooks I hope he gets well again!
Also, if the O's are looking for converts I bet Brad Bergesen would make a good outfielder and good hitter. I think he's a really good athlete, if pitching doesn't work out, he would be one player I would try and convert.
I am glad we didin't sign Bill Hall, we don't need him! Maybe if we truly needed depth, the O's should look at Luis Castillo, I think he would be a better fit. Also, Andino is playing excellent defense and hitting the ball too. He just can't bunt. Why Showalter wants to bunt Andino is beyond me! Lastly, and this goes back to my point of letting go, the Orioles shouldn't be worried about players from our past, future 1st baseman or even adding depth to second base. They should be worried about their bullpen. I think it's critical since there's no starting pitchers really available for trade. I still wholly advocate for the trade obtaining Grant Balfour if he's really available.
The next two weeks will be critical to the O's season. If they do well, they will be above .500 for the season, if they do not their win total will be in the 70's and that's if they are lucky. The big series will be against the Reds in two week. To me that will be the defining moment (that series) as to how the Orioles will fare the rest of the season!

Hi Dan,

I don't find Lowen's progress as a hitter that hard to believe. Just like Nick Markakis, Lowen could have started his career as a hitter rather than a pitcher, and with Markakis, vice versa. What we are now seeing is the progression Lowen likely would have made through the minors as a hitter if he had been signed as one, albeit delayed by 5 years or so. At 27, he is a younger and bigger version of Rick Ankiel. Many pitchers were also great hitters in high school. Elite athletes have that ability, and Lowen obviously is an elite athlete.

I say good luck to the kid and I hope he hits his first home run at Camden Yards, and waves to Peter Angelos as he rounds the bases.

Personally I think the glowing comments about Loewen are excessive.

In A ball he hit .236 with 4 Hrs in about 400 ABs (2009).
The next year in AA he hit .246 and in 500+ ABs he hit 13 HRs.

It is only in the PCL (AAA) in LV that he has put up big numbers. While his numbers this year are good the overall TEAM avg in LV is .298, on base .373, slugging .466.

So maybe he is just developing but I'd like to see it somewhere other than the PCL.

He showed no loyalty to the people that drafted him and paid him for a couple years of poor performance. It's not nice, but that's the way it looks. I do recall Andy was willing to work with him and make him a hitter and his departure was a rude surprise. We let him out of his contract and thought he would re-sign with us. Not nice.


Read what Jeff wrote in a reply and see if you still feel the same way. This wasn't Angelos' fault, Loewen wanted to stay on the ML roster, the O's couldn't do that. He owed it to the franchise to not be a jack ass and he was anyway.

I like this comment, lousy smug Canadians '
“Kudos to the Jays for giving him the chance,” Burrows said. “He wasn’t successful right away, he hung with it, especially going from the majors to Dunedin (the Jays’ minor league facility).”

The O's gave him a chance too! Plenty!

I'm with Jeff Z on this, while it's good for him getting the chance to play for the team he grew up rooting for he burned a lot of bridges to do so (so did the O's thought they had a verbal agreement and he backed out?)

I wish him the best as long as he plays horribly against the O's

Jeff Z's reply: I don't know how deep the agreement went, but the bottom line is the Orioles thought they had it all worked out with the agent, only to hear it differently when reports surfaced he was signing with the Jays. I remember talking to MacPhail that day and I don't know that I've heard him more angry in his Orioles tenure than I did that day.

Cito Gaston, certified Oriole burner.

I'm not pulling for him, but the method organization used to handle his situation was not wise. The club needed to have suffered a loss in that way, in order to learn to handle players with similar situations more intelligently in the future.

Jeff Z's reply: Wow, shocker David. You weigh in with virtually no facts to back up the point. Tell me what they did that was not wise? Give me one example.

"Kudos to the Jays for giving him a chance"?!?! Okay, let's not act as though the Orioles weren't committed to working with Loewen as he transitioned to a position player and the Blue Jays were the only team that came calling. Gaston snuck in and stole him, essentially getting a decent hitting prospect for zero cost by stealing him when the Os were in the process of moving him from their 40-man roster (as a pitcher) to the minors.

I agree that Loewen would have shown a lot more class to stick with the Orioles, who had put 6 years and millions of dollars into his failed development as a pitcher and were committed to continuing to invest in him as he transitioned to becoming a hitter. I think it is very low class, when a franchise has done right by you, to leave them high and dry, and for that reason I will root against Adam Loewen ever making it to the bigs.

I also think this reflects poorly on Gaston. Because of the unusual situation, the Os were exposed as they moves Loewen from the major league roster to the minors, even though they had every intent to keep him. For Gaston to steal him at that time also shows a lack of integrity.


Last year they were not able to sign their number two and (I think) their number three draft picks. They returned to college. It went right down to the wire and the O's didn't come up with the scratch?

I do not remember their names, but I was wondering if you know where are they now? Did they go through the draft? If so, why did the O's lose interest (hard feelings)?

Finally, I'm actually suprised that more young pitchers that fail or get hurt and their clubs don't go this way. They all probably hit when in high school and most in college with positive results.

Maybe it's true that pitchers are born, hitters are made.

Jeff Z's reply: The Orioles didn't have a 2nd rounder last year as a result of Gonzalez signing, but they did sign their top four picks (Machado, Klein, Mummey, Narron). The first one they didn't sign was 6th rounder Dixon Anderson, a pitcher out of Cal. He was drafted this year by the Nats in the 9th round or so.

one good season in minors after a history of bad seasons? must be on roids.


As Jeff said, maybe the Orioles thought they had it all worked out. This would not be the first time an athlete changed his mind about where he wanted to play. Maybe he did burn some bridges here. So what? Remember Reggie Jackson's one year stay with the O's? He used to beg Earl Weaver to trade for him everytime he saw Earl. He used to say to Earl, "Get me, I want to play here." Then he signed with the Yankees in the offseason.

Maybe the demotion gave Lowen time to think about continuing to play for a losing organization. Who wouldn't have wanted to get out of Baltimore at the time? The bottom line is the kid got a chance to go home and play and took advantage of it. Frankly I could care less what Andy Macphail thought about Lowen's decision. Andy is part of the problem here, not part of the solution.

The Orioles worked out an arrangement to give him a chance as a hitter after his arm problems sunk his pitching carreer. He already collected 4 million dollars from the O's for a brief marginal pitching carreer. Then he jumps out of the organization that never gave up on him simply because he had no loyalty or gratitude. He has the right to be a completely selfish and ungrateful jerk but I can't see rooting for him. So I don't think this qualifies as a feel good story given the circumstances.

Jeff Z sets forth the facts nicely and I do not believe that he has earned our well wishes.

I saw him hit in the Dominican Winter League and he looked good there, so it is not a surprise that he is doing well.

I hope he's a bust. I remember when that whole thing went down. I was disappointed about the injury, but was excited once I heard what a good hitter he had been. When he suddenly signed with the Jays, I was furious. I don't wish injury on him or on anyone, but I hope he fails at the ML level or never even arrives.

I wish I could take the high road as many here have done, but I can't. I remember when he left, how I felt he jilted the Orioles. They invested a ton of money in him, and were bending over backwards to help him transition to becoming a hitter with special side sessions and instruction. It was my understanding that they only "released" him because it was part of the process; he couldn't go down to the minors due to rules. I could be wrong on this, but this guy kinda slapped the Os and Os fans in the face by bolting the way he did. In the end, I hope he does well... but right now, it still bugs me that he took the money and ran. $0.02

He's not an O. As a player on a division rival I hope he bats .000 for the rest of his career.

Nothing personal though.

I spent years watching PCL players hit .350 and 30 hrs. in Albuquerque where breaking balls don't exist only to see them flame out in the majors. So maybe yes...maybe no for Adam.

But good on him and I hope he makes it. He's a Canadian who never sought to come to Baltimore. Now he's home and I hope it works for him.

Boy, there are a lot of bitter and mean spirited people out there.

I say, good luck to him. It's hard enough to make the majors once as a pitcher, but to then turn around and do it all over again as an outfielder. Kudos to him.

(Which Oriole outfielder would you like to have him as a replacement for anyway?)

Early in my career I worked five years on 'soft' money--a grant-funded job which came up for renewal every year. I left for a 'hard-money' job, a permanent position, despite pleas from my bosses that they were confident they could get my grant renewed every year forever. I was forced to make a very tough career decision at a very young age, I made it, and that's that. I've never dwelt on what might have been, and I'm sure my original employers were professional enough that they haven't spent the subsequent 35 years whining about it either.

The thing that struck me at the time that Adam went to the Jays - and I do get the playing for the home team thing - was how his initial contract with the O's specified that he had to be on the major league roster or released within a certain length of time - four years was it? It was questionable whether he'd develop enough to earn that - but he was making some progress and it hurt when he was injured - him more than us, of course - and more pain when he left the O's at the altar to sign with the J's.

That said, it's all water under the bridge.

Uh, no, I don't wish him the best. I wish he had showed some loyalty to the organization that made him a millionaire. I'm not saying he pulled a Mike Mussina [enjoy Hell, Moose], but the Orioles showed him nothing but love. And you're telling me that Ceto Gaston, with one foot out the door, was all that it took to sign with Toronto? Awful. I am all good with the Orioles beaning him, and I don't wish him well. I'm not saying he didn't give us everything he had, but he never earned the money we gave him. Put in Gonzo against him and tell him to pretend like he's protecting a 1-run lead with 2 on and 2 outs against the Yankees. Hope Loewen has dental...

I love it when he pitched against the Yankees

Why all the hating? everybody that posted here would do the same thing he did..

lets say: you get your first job ever doing something you like at a little out of the way place...after working 4 years, they lay you off with the promise of being called back in a month, but before the month is up another rival company calls you and offers you a job making more than you were..How many would go to the new job??

People have bills to pay and they would go where they needed to go..I hope he does better the Rick Ankiel after a few years in the Bigs

I'll certainly root for him (against other teams), I enjoyed watching him play, and if I rooted against everyone who's spurned the O's...well, that's more hate than I can carry.

I don't want to be negative, but I will note that Loewen is hitting about the same as two other OFs on the Las Vegas squad, one of whom (Eric Thames) is younger and came up for a brief trip to the majors and played well. The other is DeWayne Wise who is older, but was just given his unconditional release. So....

Good luck to him, they can have him. Just give us Bautista back...please!

Wow. Most of you guys are tools. He is a good, humble person that loves the game...isn't that what it all is about?otherwise, you're a sellout. And in response to PEDS comment? Your mom is on steroids. Stop being lame.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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