Rick Ankiel has pulled off an improbable transformation from pitcher to outfielder, and now Adam Loewen will try to follow the same path. A stress fracture in his left elbow derailed Loewen in 2007, and the same injury recurred this summer. Faced with the prospect of a second surgery and an 18-month rehab, Loewen and the Orioles decided he would be better off trying to become an outfielder.
The fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft, Loewen spent the next spring as a two-way player at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College before signing with Baltimore as a draft-and-follow. In the Feb. 5, 2003 Ask BA, I dealt with Loewen's potential as a position player:
. . . The [Major League Scouting] Bureau graded Loewen higher as a pitcher, but he's not far behind as a hitter. He finished third at the 2002 World Junior Championships in batting with .542-1-10 totals in 24 at-bats. Our crack Expos/Canadian correspondent Michael Levesque reports that one scout who saw Loewen in high school graded his power potential as a 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale. The scout also gave him a 60 for his batting potential and an 80 for arm strength. His speed and defense project as fringe average because Loewen will slow down as he gets bigger.
Because Loewen is lefthanded and has such good stuff (92-96 mph fastball, nasty curveball, a splitter that serves as a changeup and a new slider), I'd be surprised if a team moved him off the mound. But if that happened, Loewen certainly has the talent to make it to the majors as a hitter.
Looking back at our Top 100 Prospects list entering the season, here are the five highest-ranked players whose stock has taken a hit this year:
Homer Bailey, rhp, Reds (No. 9). He no longer qualifies for prospect status because he has exceeded 50 major league innings, which saves us the trouble of figuring out where we're supposed to rank him. Not only did he bomb in the big leagues again, but he's getting hit harder than ever in the minors. His velocity is down and he's not making the necessary improvements with his command.
Adam Miller, rhp, Indians (No. 29). I mostly avoided knocking guys for injuries, but Miller is the exception. For the third time in four years, he'll miss much of the season. Elbow problems got him in 2005 and 2007, and this year the flexor tendon detached from the bone in the middle finger of his right hand. Miller still has an impressive arm but he must prove he can stay healthy.
Deolis Guerra, rhp, Twins (No. 35). He and Carlos Gomez were the key components of the package the Mets sent to the Twins for Johan Santana. Guerra is still young as a 19-year-old in high Class A, but he has shown his youth while battling his mechanics and command all season long. His stuff has been down, too, as he has sat in the high 80s with his fastball and his changeup also has slipped a notch.
Jose Tabata, of, Yankees (No. 37). Austin Jackson has blown past Tabata as the best outfield prospect in the Yankees system. Tabata is well ahead of the traditional development path as a 19-year-old in Double-A, but he has hurt his cause by continuing to have problems with minor injuries and immaturity. He has rebounded from a slow start, though his overall .248/.320/.310 numbers, including just three homers in 79 games, leave a lot to be desired.
Matt Antonelli, 2b, Padres (No. 50). Antonelli had a legitimate claim to San Diego's second-base job in spring training, but there's no telling when he's going to make his big league debut now that he's in the midst of a shockingly dismal .194/.319/.284 season. After slamming 21 homers in 2007, he has just three in 88 games this season.
The relatively unimpressive group of elite prospects is more cyclical than the sign of a trend.
The last three drafts have been representative crops, but they pale into comparison to 2005, the best draft of this decade. That year, the top five picks were Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Jeff Clement, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun. The next seven choices included Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Pelfrey and Jay Bruce, and the depth extended well beyond them.
Not only did those players set the bar high, but they also raced quickly to the majors. Though bonus inflation has leveled off this decade, there's an increased demand for young, talented players and a willingness to give them an opportunity. Baseball isn't facing a talent crisis, but we're at a downward point of the prospect cycle.
Weeks. He's as good a hitter as any of Oakland's second-base prospects, and while he's not a power threat, he does have decent pop. He's the quickest of the three players, a legitimate stolen-base threat and a potential No. 1 or 2 hitter. He also the best defender of the trio, though none of them is a standout comparable to A's incumbent Mark Ellis.
Cardenas is the best of three in terms of hitting for power and average, and he has enough arm strength that I think Oakland will make room for him at third base. Patterson has solid tools but is lacking defensively at second base and center field, the two positions where his bat could make him a regular. He's destined to be a utilityman rather than an everyday player.