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Loewen heads to Chipola JC

By Allan Simpson
August 30, 2002

Loewen
Adam Loewen
First-round draft pick Adam Loewen attended class this morning at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College as negotiations with the Orioles reached a fruitless conclusion.

"I'm really disappointed that this didn't work out with the Orioles," said Loewen, the fourth overall pick. "Right now, I look forward to starting my college education, continuing to develop as a player and grow as a person. I love baseball. It's still a dream of mine to one day play professionally."

By attending a junior college, Loewen remains property of the Orioles as a draft-and-follow. But he will not be eligible to sign until after his junior college season ends next spring. He'll then be given a brief window to reach an agreement with the Orioles before he would become eligible to re-enter next year's draft. However, no unsigned first-round pick has ever signed as a draft-and-follow.

The two sides were never close to reaching an agreement. As late as last weekend, the Orioles continued to hold firm on an offer of $2 million. Loewen, through his adviser Michael Moye, sought $4.8 million--roughly the $4.2 million bonus paid last year to No. 4 overall pick Gavin Floyd when allowing for inflation.

The Orioles since revised their offer upward to $2.5 million--equivalent to the bonuses that were paid to No. 3 overall pick Chris Gruler (Reds) and No. 5 pick Clint Everts (Expos)--while the Loewen camp reportedly reduced its asking price to $3.9 million. With such a wide gap, the sides could not reach an agreement.

Classes at Chipola started on Aug. 19, but Loewen was not required to attend his first class until today's deadline as he held out hope that an agreement would be reached.

Loewen, a 6-foot-6 lefthander from Surrey, British Columbia, and the highest draft pick ever from Canada, originally committed to Arizona State but chose not to attend a four-year school because of his desire to play pro ball as soon as possible.

He'll begin 10 weeks of fall practice at Chipola on Tuesday, and head coach Jeff Johnson indicated he planned to use Loewen as both a pitcher and outfielder.

Though the Orioles drafted Loewen as a pitcher, he also had first-round potential as an everyday player. He was selected the top prospect at the recent World Junior Championship in Quebec as an outfielder. At the request of the Orioles, he did not pitch in the tournament.

Top Two Still Unsigned

Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 overall pick, remains in limbo. He chose not to return to Ball State when classes started Aug. 16, even though he wasn’t much closer to signing with the Pirates than on the day they drafted him. The Pirates have offered a signing bonus of $3.5 million, but Bullington and the IMG agency continue to hold firm on $5.2 million–$50,000 more than No. 1 pick Joe Mauer got last year.

Though the sides are far apart on a deal, Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said talks have been cordial and are progressing. By skipping the fall semester at Ball State, Bullington extended the signing deadline in the hopes that a deal can get done. He’ll be eligible to return to school in January if one isn’t.

B.J. Upton, the No. 2 pick, was scheduled to enroll at Florida State Aug. 23, but he told Seminoles coaches that day he would not be attending. Instead, he’ll enroll at a junior college if he does not reach an agreement with the Devil Rays.

Tampa Bay has offered the Virginia high school shortstop $4.5 million, with $250,000 up front. The overall amount is $2 million more than any 2002 draft pick has received so far, but Upton and agent Larry Reynolds balked at the terms of the deal.

The Devil Rays continued to narrow the gap by increasing their offer from $4.1 million overall and $100,000 up front.

The snag continued to be both the total value of the deal and how the money would be paid. The cash-strapped Devil Rays prefer to backload the deal–either in the form of a major league contract or through Upton’s status as a multi-sport athlete, which would allow payments to be spread out over five years.

"I can’t tell you we’re any closer," said Cam Bonifay, the Rays’ player personnel director. "Both parties have stated their case, and we’re just trying to work through that."

Reynolds said Upton would attend junior college–probably Chipola or Riverside (Calif.) Community College–if a deal cannot be reached. But he also left open the possibility Upton may not enroll until January.

"There is no deadline," Reynolds said, "but the time for them to do something is now. He is prepared to go to school."

If the Devil Rays don’t sign Upton and he goes to a junior college, they would retain his rights until a week before next year’s draft. But with it looking likely the club will have the No. 1 pick in 2003, it would put the Devil Rays in the position of trying to sign two high-priced players at once. That possibility increases their urgency to sign Upton now.

The highest drafted players never to have signed with the team that selected them include a pair of No. 1 overall picks. Outfielder Danny Goodwin jilted the White Sox in 1971, while righthander Tim Belcher didn't sign with the Twins in 1983.

Boras Clients Linger

In all, six first-round picks remained unsigned, including college righthanders Bobby Brownlie (Cubs) and Jeremy Guthrie (Indians), the 21st and 22nd picks overall. They are part of a large group of unsigned players represented by agent Scott Boras.

The Cubs have offered Brownlie $2 million, while Boras is seeking $4.5 million. Guthrie is closer to being signed. He is expected to get a major league contract from the Indians worth about $4 million overall.

The Cubs’ offer to another Boras client drafted in the supplemental first round, righthander Chadd Blasko, is a little less than $1 million.

Brownlie was not scheduled to be in class at Rutgers until Sept. 3, while Blasko chose not to attend classes at Purdue right away as negotiations with the Cubs continued.

A fourth Boras client, third baseman Jeff Baker, was drafted in the fourth round by the Rockies. He did not return to school when classes began at Clemson as Boras and the Rockies have gone back and forth on a deal. Boras reportedly turned down a major league contract worth $1.6 million.

All three high school players represented by Boras–righthanders Mark McCormick (Baylor), Jason Neighborgall (Georgia Tech) and Mike Pelfrey (Wichita State)–enrolled in college.

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