Different Strokes For Different Folks

Mike, why is there a picture of the cast of Different Strokes on here?  Well, loyal reader, why not?

Now that I have your attention, let’s take a look at the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, shall we?  Any storyline you could possibly want, the Fisher Cats have got.

Top prospect?  Check. 

23-year-old righty starter Zach Stewart will take the ball later today for New Hampshire, and is listed by Baseball America as the Blue Jays No. 1 prospect, pitching or otherwise.  Drafted in the third round by the Reds in 2008, he was dealt to Toronto last season in the Scott Rolen trade.  With a 1-1 record and 7.71 ERA in two starts so far this season, he hasn’t gotten off to the start he was looking for,  but with a fastball that can light up the radar gun around 95 MPH, it seems safe to say that will turn around for him pretty soon.

New Hampshire also has top prospects RP Danny Farquhar (14), RP Tim Collins (19), RP Trystan Magnuson (22), SP Luis Perez (15), INF David Cooper (4) and OF Eric Thames (18).  Perez is slated to pitch during Thursday’s ridiculous 10:35 AM start.

Former sure-thing Phillie who got dealt in the Roy Halladay deal?  Check.

Kyle Drabek was listed as the Phillies second best prospect heading into this season…thing is, he didn’t end up with the Philadelphia organization come April.  Considered to be the key piece in the off-season deal that brought Roy Halladay to Citizens Bank Ballpark, the son of Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek will again avoid the mound at Waterfront Park…he didn’t set foot on it while he was with Reading, and he isn’t scheduled to pitch during this series, either.

Former Thunder fan favorite?  Check.

Marty McLeary was a little-known 25-year-old righty reliever when he first joined the Trenton Thunder all the way back in 2000.  He spent all of that year at Waterfront Park, and then parts of the following two seasons there as well. 

He comes back to Trenton as a 35-year-old veteran who got into a handful of games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres. 

Reclamation project?  Check.

Adam Loewen was once the top prospect in the Baltimore Orioles organization and one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.  Now, he’s in his second year as an outfielder after spending parts of three largely unsuccessful seasons as a pitcher while wearing orange in the big leagues.

Since it’s pretty much never seen the light of day, here’s an unedited feature from 2007 that I wrote on Loewen while he was with the Bowie Baysox.  It shows you just how highly thought of this kid was as a pitcher.

Dominating.

It’s the word that his teammates use to describe him, and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Adam Loewen has certainly lived up to that billing this season.

“He’s got a dominating fastball, a dominating curveball and a dominating changeup,” said Jeff Fiorentino, his teammate with the Double-A Bowie Baysox.

Make that former teammate, as Loewen got the call that both he and Orioles fans had been waiting for since the day he signed with the club in 2003, the call to the big leagues.

He made his big league debut the same day he was called up, May 23rd, facing the closest thing the Canadian-born southpaw has to a hometown team, the Seattle Mariners. He started out strong, getting Richie Sexson to strike out looking for his first out in the show. But it all went downhill from there.

Looking nothing like the pitcher who went 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA with Bowie, he walked Carl Everett and then hit Adrian Beltre with a pitch before giving up an RBI single to Kenji Johjima. He was quickly yanked in favor of O’s reliever Todd Williams, and while they certainly won’t last, his current big league statistics aren’t indicative of what the team expects from Loewen down the road.

0.1 IP, 27.00 ERA, 1 K, 1 BB

What they are expecting, however, is the pitcher who threw seven and two thirds of innings of no-hit ball against the Reading Phillies on April 7th, striking out 12 with no walks.

Fiorentino, who had the best seat in the house for that performance out in left field, says that Loewen not only mystified most of the batters in that Phillies lineup, but does it on a regular basis.

“You can just watch him one time and you’ll see that he just dominates five to six players in the lineup,” Fiorentino said. “There’s five or six players in every team’s lineup that will not touch him. It’s just a matter of if he doesn’t walk him or if he doesn’t let the other three guys hurt him.”

Loewen was the highest drafted Canadian-born player in the history of the Major League Baseball draft, as the Orioles took him with their 4th overall selection in 2002. After contentious negotiations led to Loewen signing just hours before a deadline that would have sent him back into the draft, Loewen says he was just relieved to start his professional career.

“I always knew that I wanted to play for the Orioles,” he said. “I didn’t want to wait another summer to negotiate, I just wanted to go out there and play.”

The deal that Loewen did end up receiving led to quite a windfall, with the then-19-year-old receiving a signing bonus of $4.2 million dollars. But despite his wallet expanding faster than the strike zone in a downpour, Loewen hasn’t let that get to his head.

“It was a great privilege to see that much money when I signed,” Loewen said. “There were jokes early on in my career, but now that I’ve gone up a few levels and been around a little bit in my career, people don’t really bring it up.”

But while it was a part of the conversation when he signed, it became the focal point when he struggled in his first full season in professional baseball.

“My first full season in Delmarva was a pretty rough year,” Loewen said. “I had no control, and I’d never gone through anything like that before. I wasn’t the best control pitcher, but I had above average control before I signed professionally, so that was tough to go through.”

Loewen ended up going 4-5 with an ERA a little over four in twenty games that year. Average numbers for an average pitcher, this was unacceptable for a player destined for stardom. But that star almost never took off, according to Loewen.

“I got injured twice that year,” he said. “Any time your arm’s not feeling well, it’s cause for concern, and I just didn’t know how good my future in professional baseball was going to be at that point.”

Thankfully, that future brightened after he participated in the aptly named 2005 Futures Game, held in conjunction with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. It was there in Detroit’s Comerica Park where he showed Orioles fans what he could do, coming into the game with two runners on and nobody out and getting the save to give the World team the win. It was here, Loewen says, where he finally got some much needed confidence to get him out of his first-half funk.

“I was pretty nervous, because there were two guys on and I was really struggling with the high-A club,” said Loewen, pitching for Frederick at the time of the game. “Coming in there with two guys and nobody out and pulling out the save, it gave me a lot of confidence for the second half of the season.”

After putting together a strong second half, Loewen pitched for Peoria of the Arizona Fall League and for his native Canada in an Olympic qualifying tournament. But it was the next time he put on the red and white of his homeland that put him on the map, at least in the United States, that is.

Facing the heavily favored Americans in the World Baseball Classic, Loewen was masterful on the mound, throwing three and two thirds innings of three-hit ball against a USA lineup that included Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones. But it was another one of their hitters that made Loewen realize the magnitude of the game he was in.

“When I was facing all those guys, I was really trying to block out who was in the box, but it was hard to do,” he said. “I think when Ken Griffey, Jr. stepped in the box, it really hit me who I was facing. I grew up watching him, I lived two hours from Seattle, so we were always watching him. Getting to face him was a real neat experience for me.”

After that performance, there was a large contingent of fans that thought Loewen would start out the season in Baltimore, making the same jump that Fiorentino did one year earlier. But, showing patience with their top prospect, the Orioles front office instead assigned him to Double-A, putting him under the tutelage of Baysox pitching coach Scott McGregor.

McGregor, the Orioles Hall of Famer who spent all 13 of his big league seasons in Baltimore, has worked with Loewen in both Single-A and Double-A, and the teacher sees a bright future for his student.

“He’s going to be a special one, I think he really is,” McGregor said. “He’s a very intense kid out there, and he’s got above average stuff.”

With McGregor entrusted with the most heralded left arm in recent memory for Orioles fans, a lot of his time has been spent trying to help the 6’ 6” lefty fine tune his delivery.

“He’s a big, tall kid and it takes him a little while to figure his motion out and get a consistent release point so he can be consistent in the strike zone. I think that’s probably the biggest thing for him this year, he’s been very consistent. Even his bad starts have been all right.”

When asked to compare Loewen to a player he played with during his time in Baltimore, McGregor looked to another pitcher who had more than his fair share of bad starts early on in his career.

“We didn’t have any big, tall left-handers like that, but we did have a big, tall right-hander in Jim Palmer,” he said. “I had him come in and talk to the pitchers the other day, and he talked about his early days when he couldn’t command the strike zone and led the league in strikeouts, walks and wild pitches. But he just worked on it until he was able to keep the ball down in the zone.”

Palmer, another career Oriole who went on to become one of the best pitchers in the modern era after his early struggles, says there’s just one problem with that comparison.

“I got $50,000 and he got $4.2 million, so I guess we don’t really compare,” said the Hall of Famer with a laugh.

But while nobody’s putting the name Adam Loewen and “Hall of Fame” in the same sentence just yet, the man who is in Cooperstown has taken notice of the improvement Loewen has made since posting a robust ERA of 81.00 in his three spring training appearances in 2004.

“I haven’t really seen him pitch in a game since Spring Training a couple years ago, but he’s throwing the ball a lot better,” Palmer said. “I would think with the way the Orioles are going this year with some of their starters, you’ll see him this year.”

With the O’s starting pitching bordering on pathetic, Palmer proved prophetic, with Loewen making his big league debut a few days after being asked about the 22-year-old prospect.

So whether he turns out to be the next Jim Palmer or the next Alvie Shepherd, it appears Orioles fans will finally be getting the chance to make their own comparisons after three long years of waiting.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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