Raw Power Has Rowell Rising Rapidly
New Jersey prepster has shot up draft boards to become the top high school position player
It would be hard to blame Bill Rowell if he were sick and tired of not getting pitches to hit. But it doesn't seem to faze him.
"It's not frustrating because I knew that this was going to happen before the season, so I was ready for it," said Rowell, one of the country's top high school hitters. "I am just trying to do the best I can with the pitches I get."
It's fitting that Rowell (rhymes with "vowel") is getting pitched this way, because it emulates how opponents pitch to the player he emulates.
"I try and be like Barry Bonds because he never swings at a bad pitch," Rowell said. "He would rather just take the walk than be anxious and jumpy."
A senior at Bishop Eustace Prep in southern New Jersey, the lefthanded hitting shortstop was flying up draft boards thanks to his plus-plus raw power, which he generates from a swing that he modeled after the Giants slugger. As Rowell sees it, there is no point in trying to copy any other hitter.
"Everything I do in baseball I want to try and be the best," the 17-year-old said. "I don't want to be second. You have to look at the best to be the best."Prodigious Power
A four-year starter at Bishop Eustace, Rowell established himself as a star during his sophomore campaign. In the 2004 South Jersey title game played at the home park of the independent Atlantic League's Atlantic City Surf, Rowell smoked a bases-clearing triple off the left field wall to break a scoreless tie and help give Bishop Eustace a 5-4 victory over Saint Rose High.
"We were like, 'Wow, this is something special,' " Bishop Eustace head coach Sam Tropiano said. " 'Sophomores in high school should not be able to do this.' "
That summer, he was invited to the East Coast Showcase, a rarity for a rising junior, and his career took off from there. He set the Eustace single-season record with 14 home runs in 2005, and was a cinch selection to represent the East in the Aflac All-American game.
With a school record 28 home runs entering the 2006 campaign, Rowell's home run production has understandably suffered because of the Bonds treatment. As a result, he has been forced to alter his approach and use the opposite field. Though he had just four home runs, his .541 average marked the highest of his career, and his five strikeouts were a career low. He also has added speed to his game, with 21 of his career 26 stolen bases coming this season.
Power is still his calling card though, and he has kept scouts buzzing with some of the most impressive batting practice displays you will ever see from a prep player. In a recent home run derby, Rowell reportedly hit one ball that traveled more than 500 feet; however, there are still concerns about how his power will transfer in game action against top competition.
"His batting practice and game swings are two different swings," one American League area scout said. "The question is, will he do what he does in BP in a game?
"If people believed he could, he might be the first pick in the country."
Rowell had a chance to disprove doubters in a recent matchup with righthander Sean Black of Lenape High (Medford, N.J.), the most talented high school pitcher in South Jersey, but Rowell went hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout. Thus, the questions remain.Too Tall For Short
Another major unknown is Rowell's future position. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, he has practically outgrown shortstop already and still has filling out to do. He will likely begin his pro career at third base, but many feel that his future lies in the outfield where his above-average arm strength and power potential profile well in right field.
Rowell is aware that his draft value comes from his bat, however, and he works on his swing in a manner one would expect from a major leaguer.
His family has an indoor and outdoor batting cage at their home, and Rowell and his brother (an eighth grader who is likely to take over shortstop at Eustace next season) take turns throwing batting practice to one another. When his sibling is not around, Rowell can be found methodically hitting from a tee.
"I think tee is the best drill going," Rowell said. "It fixes so many flaws in your swing. It keeps you in a groove and keeps you on plane nicely."
Rowell's fixation with his swing borders on obsessive, and because he spends so much time on his own perfecting it, it can alienate him from his teammates; yet another trait that resembles Bonds.
"He definitely emulates Barry Bonds, he's got that kind of personality and focus," the A.L. scout said. "Is he going to rub minor league managers wrong and come across as a bonus baby? Maybe, but he's not that way, he's just very focused."
It would be hard to begrudge Rowell for that focus because it is a main reason he has raised his stature. He has moved himself solidly into the first round in a draft that is light on hitters. Though he committed to Alabama, his rising stock makes it unlikely he will ever set foot on a college field, as some organizations have him rated as the top prep hitter in the country.
"I don't think he is getting past the top 10 picks," a National League crosschecker said.
Neither did Bonds.