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Loewen breaks ground with Chipola

By John Manuel
January 27, 2003

Adam Loewen is treading uncharted waters as the first unsigned first-round draft pick to attend junior college. So far, he’s making the decision look good.

The fourth overall selection in 2002, Loewen spurned the Orioles when the club’s ownership decided to hold firm on its bonus offer: reportedly $2 million, a figure well below the slotted bonuses Major League Baseball encouraged its clubs to pay.

Loewen, who also holds the distinction of being the highest-drafted Canadian ever, had committed to Arizona State along with a passel of other high-round picks in a 26-man recruiting class. While fellow Sun Devils signees Prince Fielder (Brewers) and Chris Gruler (Reds) signed quickly as first-round picks, Loewen was in limbo with the Orioles. So he set out to prove his worth by attending Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, giving him the option of signing with the Orioles as a draft-and-follow a week prior to the 2003 draft or going through the process again.

"I just felt that I was drafted so high, there wasn’t much room for improving my draft position," Loewen said. "This was the first year where the draft bonuses changed a bit, so you could say my timing wasn’t the best.

"If I came to junior college, I knew it meant I would get to play, but I could still go to pro ball after a year instead of spending three years in a Division I program."

A season in junior college may also give scouts more opportunity to decide what Loewen is: a pitcher or hitter. Besides being an impressive physical specimen with amazing athleticism in his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, Loewen has continued to show mid-90s velocity from an easy, clean delivery while displaying his customary thunder from the left side of the plate.

"We don’t really keep stats in the fall, but he had a great, great, great fall," Chipola coach Jeff Johnson said. "He’s just very, very athletic. He plays the game so easily."

Johnson said Loewen’s fastball was consistently clocked at 92-93 mph and regularly jumped to 95 or 96, as needed. In one intrasquad game, Johnson said catcher Cole Armstrong (who, like Loewen, hails from British Columbia) touched him for a line-drive hit early in the game.

"Cole is one of his buddies," Johnson said, "but the rest of the game when he came up, Adam was all 95 and 96. I don’t think Cole got another hit."

While touching the mid-90s at will during Chipola’s fall schedule, Loewen improved his feel and command. He picked up a slider that at times touched the high 80s to go with his split-finger changeup and curveball.

"When we saw him early in the fall–it might have been his first start–he was throwing hard but didn’t have the same command," Young Harris (Ga.) Junior College assistant coach Austin Smithwick said. "He just wasn’t efficient enough to go more than three innings on his pitch count. But by the end of the fall, the buzz going around was that he was unhittable."

Getting Into The Swing

If Loewen somehow could face himself as a hitter, it’s possible he could get himself out. No one else could, Johnson said. Loewen adjusted his stance at the plate, shortening his stride to incorporate his lower half more into his swing. He also worked to use his hips more and get his hands through the hitting zone quicker.

Loewen, Canada’s top hitter at the World Junior Championship last summer, spent the fall hitting cleanup for the Indians. He continued to show the power that has many scouts wondering whether he may project better as a pitcher or as a power-hitting outfielder.

"He would be our best center fielder by a lot if we used him there, but because he’s pitching, we’ve limited him to first base and DH," Johnson said. "He’s got great hand-eye coordination and can really swing it. He’s just a special talent."

Loewen, who sits at No. 1 in the Major League Scouting Bureau rankings entering 2003, wants to get paid like a special talent. But he’s more than willing to put in his time at Chipola, located in tiny Marianna, about 65 miles west of Tallahassee. He fits right in on a team with 11 players on the roster who were drafted in 2002.

"It’s been great, really–there’s been no real culture shock or anything," Loewen said. "The weather has helped because we can play or just go throw all the time. I like the outdoors and there’s a lot of hunting around here, so that’s been good.

"I just want to take matters into my own hands this spring and try to prove people wrong, that I do deserve what I feel I am worth."

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