by Matthew Taylor
Thursday is MLB’s draft day, which offers a fitting opportunity to check in on O’s prospect Billy Rowell.
The Birds took Rowell with the ninth pick in 2006, a draft that is already starting to bear fruit for some major league teams. Rowell came off the board one slot ahead of current Giants fireballer Tim Lincecum; 12 ahead of the Yankees' Ian Kennedy; and six slots behind Tampa Bay’s “Mr. Everything” Evan Longoria. Rowell was the highest pick among high school position players selected in the 2006 draft.
So far Rowell is best known for his legendary 480-foot home run in Aberdeen in 2006. The Pennsauken, NJ, native's power from the third base position has drawn comparisons with the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman, though injury is their most common shared trait at this point in their young careers; Rowell sat out the start of the '07 season with a strained oblique.
William Rowell, 3B: We compared Rowell to a young Ryan Zimmerman, boldly proclaiming there would be a big debate in the not-too-distant future as to who is the better third baseman. OK, so maybe Rowell got a little excited when he saw the memo. It's not like he had a bad year, hitting .273 with nine homers and 57 RBIs for Class A Delmarva of the South Atlantic League. He missed the first month and a half with an injured oblique muscle and never really seemed to get in a tremendous groove. He fanned 104 times while drawing only 31 walks. Bear in mind, he turned 19 last month.
Billy Rowell, 3B: The injured oblique kept Rowell on steady ground, preventing him from moving up or down in the eyes of many. Obviously, the talent and the promise that comes along with said talent are still there. But he'll need to have a bigger, better and healthier '08 to make the move up a few rungs.
MILB.com rated Rowell as the AL East's top-rated third base prospect heading into the '07 season. He was a 2006 Rookie League All-Star.
Earlier this year The Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec fielded a question on Rowell’s progress as part of his regular O’s Q&A.
Rich, Tampa,Rowell is currently batting .246 for the Frederick Keys with 2 home runs, 22 RBIs, and a .677 OPS. He has 38 K's (in 37 games) against 12 walks. The bright spot among Rowell's current numbers is his production with runners in scoring position: .394 avg., .475 OBP, .485 SLG, .960 OPS.
: How is Bill Rowell progressing and what is the rough estimate for when he projects to play in the big leagues? Is the goal to have Rowell replace Melvin Mora when his contract expires or will that be too soon? Fla.
Jeff Zrebiec: Rowell didn't severely regress last season, but he certainly didn't take the next step either. He was slowed by the ever popular oblique injury and wound up hitting .273 with nine homers and 57 RBIs at Single-A Delmarva. He also struck out 104 times in 352 at-bats, which is rather alarming. He is still very much a work-in-progress defensively at third base, and some scouts feel that his future position is across the diamond at first base. So, I think it's a little early to anoint Rowell as the successor to Mora, whose contract is up after the 2009 season. Unless he breaks out with a truly monster year in '08, I still think 2010 is the absolute earliest you'll see him in the majors. Club officials still really like him and there's no question about his power. And he's still only 19. But this is a big season for him. This is a big season for several Orioles minor leaguers, including Brandon Erbe and Brandon Snyder.
Some useful resources to look back on past drafts:
-The Birds' draft results from 2006 (and other years) on baseball-reference.com
-ESPN's list of the Orioles' first round draft picks through the years
-Overall first-round draft results from 2006
[Image source: minorleaguebaseball.com. Click on photo for original.]