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Rowell Brings Youthful Confidence to the Yard

By Louis Berney

No big leaguer has ever hit the Camden Yards warehouse with a home run in a regular season game.

But 17-year-old Billy Rowell says that will one day change, perhaps as early as three or four years from now.
Rowell, the Orioles’ No. 1 draft choice this year, signed his $2.1 million contract on July 6. Can the high school slugger hit the warehouse, which stands 439 feet from home plate?  By the time he’s in the Majors, Rowell is confident he can.
“Definitely, you better believe it,” he said.

Rowell, who began his professional career with rookie league Bluefield on July 8, also said he plans to reach the big leagues as a regular within three to four years. "I expect a lot of special things out of myself," he said. "I’m in a perfect situation to succeed."

Rowell’s boasts are backed up by his successful high school career. As a senior at Bishop Eustace Prep in Pennsauken, N.J., Rowell batted .561 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. For his entire high school career, he hit .507 with 35 home runs and 161 RBIs in just 106 games. Baseball America deemed him the third best "pure hitter" among high school ballplayers this year, and the second best power hitter. Both Baseball America and USA Today named him a first team All-American.
"He dares to dream big," Rowell’s high school baseball coach Sam Tropiano told the Courier-Post. "He's not afraid to dream big and go after it. That's what separates him from all of the kids who have the tools…What makes Billy special is that he had an absolute blueprint on how to get this thing done."

The Orioles are pleased with Rowell’s positive attitude and believe it will serve him well as he works toward reaching the majors.

"This is a confident kid," Oriole scouting director Joe Jordan said. "He’ll need that. I think he’s a ballplayer. I like guys who like to go out on the field and mix it up and play the game."

What makes Rowell’s first-round selection both interesting and encouraging is that he is not a pitcher. Over the past 25 years, 60 percent of the O's first picks in the opening round of the draft have been pitchers. Yet only four of those pitchers (Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald, Mike Mussina and Adam Loewen) have ever pitched for the Orioles in the major leagues.
Meanwhile, the club has been one of the worst in the major leagues at drafting, signing and developing position players who’ve made an impact at the major league level.

But just prior to Rowell’s signing, Nick Markakis, Baltimore’s first-round selection in the 2002 amateur draft, had his finest week as a major leaguer. The 22-year-old outfielder, who had struggled at the plate and was hitting just .218 through the first week in June, went 15-for-25 (.600), raising his average for the season to .268.
The Orioles had been patient with the rookie, keeping him in the everyday lineup and hoping that he would turn things around. He had worked diligently with hitting coach Terry Crowley and is starting to look more comfortable at the plate. However, Markakis’ power and production numbers remain low. He had only two home runs and 21 RBIs prior to the All-Star break.
The Orioles have been stockpiling young pitching prospects for years. Most of those young pitchers have not turned out to be of major league caliber. Perhaps the team’s scouts and player development staff will have more success at finding and cultivating major league hitters. With Markakis and Rowell, they are off to a good start. 

Issue 1.12, July 13, 2006