- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

Growing up in British Columbia, Adam Loewen made the two-hour trek from Surrey to Seattle to watch Ken Griffey Jr. and his Mariners play many times.

Representing his country in the World Baseball Classic in March was going to be special, but it became something more when Loewen took the mound against the United States squad and one of his childhood idols.

“I didn’t even know I was going to face the United States until two days before when they switched the rotation around,” Loewen said. “They kind of just threw me out there. I didn’t know what to expect. I was really nervous but once I got out there I got comfortable and felt I could get those guys out.”

The one guy he didn’t get out was Griffey, who walked and doubled. But the left-handed Loewen pitched 32/3 shutout innings against Team USA and was the winner as Canada shocked the Americans 8-6.

Pitching in the WBC is one of many career highlights for Loewen, who has quite a resume despite just turning 22 in April.

In 1996, Loewen led the Kennedy-Surrey Little League team to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series, pitching his team to its lone win in three games. So which international experience was better?

“The World Baseball Classic for sure, but the Little League World Series was unbelievable, too,” Loewen said. “That’s kind of like the pinnacle of baseball even up through high school and middle school.”

Loewen has pitched for Team Canada in Olympic qualifying tournaments, but was left off the 2004 squad that went to Athens. He also appeared in the Futures Game last summer.

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Loewen looks like he could be patrolling the blue line for an NHL franchise. He played both baseball and hockey until he turned 15.

“I just didn’t think hockey was going to take me anywhere, but I had fun playing it and still love the game a lot,” Loewen said. “I think I made the right decision.”

Loewen was drafted fourth overall — the highest selection of a Canadian — by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2002 draft.

He nearly didn’t sign in time and might have gone No. 1 overall in 2003 after a dominating season at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College. When he inked his name to a $4.02 million major league contract with a $3.2 million signing bonus, he immediately became one of the Orioles’ top prospects and a key piece of their future.

Loewen spent last season with high Class A Frederick and spent a lot of time issuing free passes to Carolina League hitters. He went 10-8 with a 4.12 ERA in 27 starts, and struck out 146 batters in 142 innings. But he also gave up a league-leading 86 walks.

He had more success toward the end of the season and helped the Keys capture the Carolina League title before heading to the Arizona Fall League. The prospect-filled league has become known as a hitter’s wonderland. Last season, three of the six teams hit better than .300.

Loewen was one of the AFL’s biggest stories, however, compiling a league-best 1.67 ERA in 27 innings.

“My fastball kind of came alive in Arizona,” Loewen said. “I had a lot of confidence from the second half of the season and my offspeed pitches — I started throwing more of them for strikes in all counts. I felt comfortable in Arizona, but it definitely was a hitter’s paradise. The ball just jumped off bats there.”

This spring began with the WBC experience and a masterpiece (12 strikeouts and zero walks) in his first start for Class AA Bowie. While he had a couple of rough outings after that, he has settled in with the Baysox, allowing a total of three runs in his past four starts.

He has 47 strikeouts in 382/3 innings, and while the walks (18) are still there, he is pitching much better.

“He had a lot of walks [last year]. Now, [Tuesday] he had four walks but they weren’t bad ones,” Baysox pitching coach Scott McGregor said. “He’s just missing a little up or a little away, it’s not like he’s all over the place and getting all frustrated. He’s maintaining his composure and making pitches when he needs to get out of jams. He’s maturing.”

McGregor also coached Loewen last season at Frederick.

Loewen possesses a fastball that tops out at 95 mph, but he normally throws it in the low 90s. He also has a nasty curveball and a developing changeup.

“I still have a long way to go to be consistent about where I want to put the ball and where I want to pitch hitters,” Loewen said. “I need to be more consistent with my changeup. I haven’t been throwing it enough. Like right now, I’m topping out at 92, 93 [mph] and I usually top out at 95. I need a good changeup to keep the hitters off my fastball, especially early in the count.”

He was rated the organization’s top prospect by Baseball America in 2004 before slipping behind outfielder Nick Markakis and right-hander Hayden Penn last year and staying behind Markakis this year. With Markakis in the majors, he is clearly Baltimore’s top prospect in the minors, and he is projected to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Orioles.

Because he signed a major league contract, Loewen must stick with the Orioles by the end of the 2007 season. He could get a look later this season, and a spot in the rotation in 2007 wouldn’t come as a surprise.

“I was a No. 1 pick a hundred years ago or whenever it was,” said McGregor, picked No. 14 overall in 1972 by the New York Yankees. “You never got hit [before getting drafted]. You have to learn that they’re going to score some runs on you. He’s striking a lot of guys out right now because his stuff is so overpowering, but as he gets higher up he won’t strike out as many guys but he’ll still get outs.

“I think he’s going to be everything we’re looking for.”

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