By Will Lingo
Welcome to the first edition of the Draft Dish, an outlet for quick-hitting, late-breaking news about the draft that might not fit in anywhere else. From now until the draft--which is four weeks from today--we'll bring you a weekly update on the hottest draft news. So let's jump right in:
The hot draft story of the week is the status of lefthander Adam Loewen, who can sign with the Orioles now that his season at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College is over. He was the fourth overall pick last year and took the juco route to keep his options open.
Loewen and the Orioles can negotiate until midnight on May 26, when the closed period begins a week before the draft. Unsigned players at that time go back into the draft pool.
The Sun of Baltimore reports that owner Peter Angelos won't authorize more than $2.5 million to sign Loewen "unless his baseball people make an overwhelming case for it." Loewen's price tag is said to be in the $4 million range.
Yet rumors persist that Loewen has agreed to a deal with the club. Orioles scouting director Tony DeMacio told Baseball America Tuesday that was not the case.
The Orioles drafted Loewen last year with assurances from ownership that they would be able to meet his bonus demands. That stance changed right after the draft, so Loewen remains unsigned even though he would be a boon to a farm system that desperately needs impact talent.
If Loewen goes back into the draft, he would likely be one of the first players selected.
Loewen put up good numbers this spring for Chipola, going 6-1, 2.47, but he had his worst start in his final outing in the second round of the Florida juco tourney, with Orioles co-general manager Jim Beattie and DeMacio in attendance.
Chipola lost two straight games in the tournament in the wake of the death of Brian Clausen, a freshman righthander who was killed in a wreck, and a long layoff.
Loewen's line in his final game against Manatee CC was 5-5-7-7-3-5. Chipola was losing 3-1 going into bottom of sixth, when Loewen gave up a three-run homer and Manatee scored six to put the game away. Manatee won 9-1 on the tourney's eight-run rule after seven innings.
On the upside, Loewen had good velocity, hitting 95 mph in the first inning and throwing 90-95 early. He flashed a good breaking ball but was a little wild, and that's what hurt him.
"I'm sure that if the Orioles want to sign me, they will," Loewen recently told the Canadian Press. "If not, I'll just go back in the draft."
It looks like the Devil Rays are zeroing in on Delmon Young and Rickie Weeks for the No. 1 overall pick, with Ryan Harvey as the darkhorse candidate.
Young, the California high school outfielder who is the younger brother of Dmitri, had a private workout with the Rays at Tropicana Field Sunday.
With executives Chuck LaMar and Cam Bonifay, manager Lou Piniella and third-base coach Tom Foley watching, Young crushed several pitches into the stands.
"Most young high school players . . . if you bring them into a major league ballpark and had, what, 30 major league players or executives watching him take batting practice, it's hard," LaMar said. "I've seen situations where the kids didn't even hit the ball out of the cage. I mean, good players. Not only did you see him get the ball out of the cage, but out of the park."
Besides his tools, Young's pedigree is also a strength. Dmitri was the No. 4 overall pick in 1991 and is in his seventh major league season.
"He has grown up around baseball," LaMar said. "He is comfortable in this environment. He's a fine-looking baseball player. He comes from an outstanding background. He has played against the best competition in California. So you're looking at one of the finest players in the draft in 2003."
Richmond righthander Tim Stauffer had his worst outing of the season last Thursday in front of two general managers and representatives of every team with a pick in Nos. 2-7 slots. Stauffer gave up seven runs in the first and eight runs (six earned) overall in six innings at North Carolina in a 10-0 loss. Stauffer was the victim of a tight strike zone, poor defense and his own inability to adjust to the tighter zone. He walked four after having walked just seven in 83 innings coming in, striking out six. He still has a 119-11 K-BB ratio.
"I lost my release point and they made the adjustments at the plate," he said. "I'm not sure what it was. Maybe I was just rushing it a bit, and then I walked a guy or two and gave up a hit or two. I wasn't getting the low strike, but sometimes that's not going to get called. Usually in other games, teams try to hit me early in the count because I throw so many strikes, but they were really going deep in the count."
Padres GM Kevin Towers, whose team picks fourth, and the Orioles' Beattie were both on hand, as were scouting directors and/or crosscheckers from the Brewers, Tigers, Padres, Royals, Cubs and Orioles.
"I've seen that kind of thing all year," Stauffer said. "You can't change your approach for the scouts. Hopefully, they'll find you interesting enough to follow you and that's how my year has been. If you weren't doing well, they wouldn't follow you, so it's flattering."
The two best players at the Florida juco tournament who are not under control to any team were righthander Jeramy Simmons (Okaloosa-Walton CC) and catcher Lou Palmisano (Broward CC). Both are probably seventh- to 10th-rounders. Simmons pitches at 88-92 mph, throws three pitches for strikes and had as good a breaking ball as anyone at the tournament. Palmisano showed 1.95-2.0-second pop times to second base, has a great body and shows pop to the opposite field. He reportedly turned down a six-figure bonus out of high school from the White Sox. He injured his shoulder last year but is throwing fine now.
Among the players making noise at last weekend's California juco regionals was righthander Jack Arnold, the closer for Santa Ana. Arnold, who had six saves in the regular season, was throwing in the low to mid-90s, helping Santa Ana into a regional showdown against powerful Cypress.
One of the hottest properties in the draft right now is Pennsylvania high school outfielder Chris Lubanski, who has really been hitting of late. His 10-for-11 explosion in a doubleheader last week, when he hit for two cycles over the two games, was witnessed by a group of scouts that included Indians scouting director John Mirabelli. Word is that if Lubanski is around when the Indians pick 11th, they'll take him. The Orioles reportedly like him as well, and they pick seventh. He would be even more likely to go to the Orioles if they sign Loewen. The Marlins at 16th and Angels at 23rd also like Lubanski, but now it doesn't look like he'll get to them.
High school players going the other way are Florida lefthander Andrew Miller and California righthander Jared Hughes. Miller, who had been talked about as a top five pick, has shown an inconsistent delivery and velocity that tends to fall off after three innings this spring. At his best, the 6-foot-7 Miller touches 97 mph and pitches at 91-95, with a plus curveball. The Marlins and Angels reportedly have interest and are now more likely to have a shot at him when they pick.
Hughes, on the other hand, may fall all the way out of the first round after being rated the No. 4 high school prospect in the country coming into the season. He was lights-out in the fall but has been hit hard at times this spring. He has had some tightness in his shoulder, though that's not a major concern. More worrisome is his secondary stuff, which he hasn't shown much of a feel for. He also might be one of those players who's a victim of overexposure, as he has been on scouts' radar for years and has played in multiple showcases and other events.
Contributing: Josh Boyd, Jim Callis, John Manuel, Allan Simpson, Marc Topkin.