Former high draft pick Loewen still has big-league dreams

Posted: June 16, 2014

READING - A former top-five draft pick was playing winter ball in Venezuela when he started to sense he would have difficulty landing a job this spring.

So Adam Loewen reverted to an old custom. He began to long toss.

More than 5 years had elapsed since Loewen, once a ballyhooed Orioles' pitching prospect, last toed the rubber. Arm injuries had sent the touted 6-6 southpaw into a second career as a hitter. But nearing 30 and after 3 years of stints manning the outfield in Buffalo, Port St. Lucie and New Hampshire, he opted to again gauge the status of his once-prized left arm.

"I felt like I left a lot out there, a lot of potential that was untapped, really," he said. "What it came down to was I still wanted to play. I love this game. I didn't want to take the jersey off yet."

By March, Loewen was pitching off a mound twice a week back home in Scottsdale, Ariz. After only a couple sessions, four major league clubs dispatched scouts to watch him throw. In early April, the Phillies followed suit. After receiving an out-of-the-blue phone call from Pat Gillick, Loewen took the mound at an Arizona high school in front of Phillies area scout Brad Holland. The result was a minor league contract and a ticket to Clearwater, Fla., for extending spring training.

It's now 2 months later and Loewen, giving his major league pitching career one last shot, is with the Phillies' Double A club in Reading. About 10 outings into his comeback, the last two with Reading, he's still rebuilding arm strength and honing his fastball command. But indications are he's making progress.

"As soon as I got on the mound, it just felt normal," he said. "Even though it's going to take a while to get back in the groove, the spin [of the ball] and the feel for the mound didn't go away."

To avid baseball fans, Loewen's name might sound familiar. Twelve years ago, the Orioles made the Vancouver native the No. 4 overall pick in the MLB draft, choosing him two picks before the Royals took Zack Greinke, three before the Brewers selected Prince Fielder and 13 slots before Cole Hamels became a member of the Phillies.

Loewen, then baseball's highest-drafted Canadian, made his way through Baltimore's system and debuted in the major leagues at age 22. From 2006 through 2008, he made 35 appearances, 29 of them starts, and recorded a modest 8-8 record with a subpar 5.38 ERA before stress fractures in consecutive years stalled his pitching career. The first, in 2007, culminated in the insertion of a 4.5-inch screw into the back of his elbow. When he suffered the same injury the next season, a definitive course of action from doctors was unclear, he said.

"That threw up red flags for me that it was going to be a really long road back," he said. "So I figured, I was a good hitter in high school, maybe that was a road I could take while resting my arm. I wasn't throwing pitching completely out the door."

Converting to an outfielder, Loewen caught on with the Toronto Blue Jays organization the next season. When rosters expanded in September 2011, he made his return to the majors. In 37 plate appearances over 14 games, he hit .188 with a home run, a double and four RBI, while seeing time at all three outfield positions and as a designated hitter.

That was his last stint in the majors. He spent 2012 in the Mets' farm system before another stop with the Blue Jays' Double A club last year.

"Not that I took it for granted, but I really didn't know how lucky I was to be playing professional baseball and to have the opportunities I did at the big-league level," Loewen said. "I don't take 1 day for granted anymore."

In two starts with Reading, Loewen has no record and a 2.45 ERA over 11 innings. He's surrendered nine hits, one home run, walked eight batters and struck out six. His fastball command needs improvement, but he's had good handle of his curveball, slider and changeup. His offspeed pitches have helped him work out of several jams.

"He just looks like he's getting back to having a natural feel for being on the mound," said Reading pitching coach David Lundquist, who also spent time with Loewen a few years ago in the Dominican Winter League. "His aptitude for being on the mound is very good.

"You can definitely tell he's been there before," said Reading catcher Logan Moore, who's caught three of Loewen's last four starts, including the pitcher's first with Class A Clearwater on May 25.

The Phillies think Loewen's command and arm strength will improve in time. Before joining Reading, Loewen made only about six appearances in extended spring training and two more with the Threshers. At his peak in his past life as a pitcher, Loewen's fastball would touch 96 mph. On Tuesday, he hit 91 but mostly sat around the high 80s.

"Very few guys have gotten to the big leagues as a pitcher and a hitter," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. Jordan, the Orioles' scouting director from 2005 to 2011, knew Loewen from Baltimore and, along with Gillick, was influential in bringing him to the Phillies' organization. "He's an easy guy to root for."

Some around the Reading clubhouse knew Loewen from last season, when he hit 15 home runs for Eastern League opponent New Hampshire. Asked whether he thought Loewen still had big-league stuff on the mound, Reading manager Dusty Wathan said he would never bet against a lefthander.

"Obviously, the guy's got a ton of talent. I watched him hit home runs in this league like crazy last year," said Wathan, a former catcher. "It's kind of neat. It's a guy who doesn't want to give up on his dream of getting back to the major leagues in any capacity he can."

Jordan lauded Loewen's smarts on the mound. He actually sees a better pitcher than 6 years ago, but said Loewen's arsenal of pitches is not yet back to its old form. Once he improves his command, Loewen said he thinks his experiences as a hitter will make him more effective when facing them.

Now 30, Loewen knows this is probably his last shot at the major league dream. His arm injuries are behind him, but one more serious setback and he'd likely hang it up. Regarding his chances at a potential return to the big leagues, Loewen said he isn't interested in setting a timetable for himself. He knows nothing good would come from it.

This isn't his first go-around.

On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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