Loewen gets sign he's the real deal

February 29, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The big prospect is 19, slated for a season in Single- or Double-A and doing his best to keep a low profile, but that's not easy when Orioles officials and coaches make it a point to wander out to a distant practice field to watch Adam Loewen throw.

"Buddy Groom, Mike DeJean, B.J. Ryan, I talk to these guys all the time about how they pitch. They've kind of taken me under their wing, tell me what to do, what not to do. I'm trying to stay away from the center of attention," Loewen said.

Enjoy the modest anonymity while you can, young Mr. Loewen. His reputation and first-round draft rank preceded Loewen to his inaugural big league training camp. So did the stature that comes with a $3.2 million signing bonus and five-year major league contract. All these trappings would be meaningless if not for the body language that says Adam Loewen was right. He belongs.

"I like to look at myself as cocky, but to be a pitcher you have to be confident. You can't let a hitter determine what he's going to do during an at-bat. If he's going to get a hit, it's because you threw it at his bat," he said.

Get the picture?

Talk all you want about Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson and the impact these major league stars will have on the Orioles' season. Do not underestimate how important it is for a resurgent organization, as the Orioles believe they are, to have in the fold a player as special as Loewen.

On the mound yesterday, Loewen's fastball was a little too high. His changeup was sometimes in the dirt. Minor league hitters in the box cracked a few hard liners into the outfield.

None of it could obscure the tantalizing picture of a big prospect whose potential is as sure as night follows day. Loewen reached for another ball, waved his glove at the catcher and continued to work without a trace of frustration. Nothing but poise.

"He's 6-6, lefty, has three pitches. He has everything you're looking for. You go through the checklist and it's, `He's got that, that, that,' " Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said.

"We know he's good. He knows he's good. You'll know he's good," Flanagan said.

The reviews and raves aren't in stereo, but surround-sound.

"You can see the liveliness of the ball, the quality of the pitches, the athleticism. All these things play into it. You see the potential for him as a front-of-the-rotation guy," vice president of baseball operations Jim Beattie said.

"I'm not as fine-tuned as the scouts, but I can appreciate what the body does, his athleticism, how he has the chance to do something very special," Beattie said.

"There's a lot of things you just can't teach. I'm sure there are a few guys in the clubhouse who think what's the big deal, why did he get the money, let's see if you're a player, then they look and say, `Oh.'

"You see it in Adam."

Beattie said he saw the worst game Loewen had last year at Chipola Junior College, where Loewen played a season while the Orioles' front office worked on owner Peter Angelos to pay the No. 1 draft pick the big signing bonus.

"The gun tells you one thing, but it's behind the plate [where] you can see how he makes adjustments. His last game of the season was a playoff game and he was terrible. He gave up four or five runs in the first inning, but you could still see what he had. The kid just didn't quit. He kept banging away to try to find something to get guys out."

Flanagan looks at Loewen and sees Frank Tanana. The 93-mph fastball is a pitch Loewen can crank up to 95 if need be, but it's the big curve he likes to use for the out pitch.

Loewen, who was just ranked the No. 13 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, sees himself as the second coming of Mark Mulder.

"He's left-handed. He's built like me. I watch him on TV, study his tendencies. I look up to him," he said.

It is a trip to see a teenager possess the poise and mechanics to turn a difficult physiological task like pitching a baseball off a dirt mound into something that looks so smooth, effortless. Dontrelle Willis and the leg kick are a joyous novelty, but what Loewen has is the stuff of front-line, no-nonsense dominators.

Is this why they call certain prospects "The Natural?"

The Orioles can barely contain their enthusiasm over Loewen. Flanagan can look at the mound and tell when Loewen has been throwing. It's all written there in the dirt.

Where some Orioles pitchers are erratic in their mechanics and delivery, Loewen is smooth and consistent. His back foot pushes off the rubber and lands in the same spot every time. He wears a neat little groove in the red dirt.

Also, when he throws on the side for a 12-minute session, it's a quiet, continuous series of pitches.

"There's not a lot of coaching. Most guys, there's six minutes of throwing and six minutes of coaching. With Adam, it's 12 minutes of throwing," Flanagan said.

Loewen said his only goal for the season is to make it through healthy. He also plans to pitch for the Canadian Olympic team in August in Athens, which the Orioles are inclined to allow, considering Angelos' role as financier and booster for the Greek Olympic team.

The Orioles can only hope to guide Loewen through as painless a rite of passage as possible. They know what they have. It's just so abundantly clear.

"We want to challenge him, see how he handles the minor league season. He's going to get hit like he's never been hit before. We'll see how he bounces back emotionally. Baseball is a game of failures. So far, he has dominated," Flanagan said.

Loewen is ready.

"My expectations are higher than what the Orioles have for me. Everyone thinks there's so much pressure on me, but when your own expectations are higher than everyone else's, you don't feel it," he said.

You can find Loewen pitching on a distant field this spring, but his shadow is long and looming.

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