If the worst should happen this summer and the Blue Jays were a truly awful team, finishing near the bottom of the major-league standings, take solace in this: they'd be that much closer to being able to draft British Columbia's own Adam Loewen.
It won't happen, of course: the Jays would have to make a special effort to lose as many games as the Tigers or Devil Rays, JP doesn't go anywhere near high school pitchers, and Loewen's signing bonus is likely to be stratospheric. But Loewen could still be one of the most interesting figures in next June's draft, and not just for Canadians.
From a patriotic standpoint, Loewen is a source of pride: the fourth overall selection in the 2002 entry draft, higher than any Canadian had ever attained. He is a physical specimen, to be sure: 6'5" and 220 pounds at just 18 years of age, he's a lefthander who throws regularly in the low 90s and touches 96, complemented by a split-finger, curve and newly acquired slider that reaches the high 80s itself. The thought that he might yet gain velocity and command as he matures is an intoxicating one.
Certainly the Baltimore Orioles thought so when they drafted Loewen with the fourth pick lat year. But Peter Angelos and friends offered the Canuck a US$2 million signing bonus, well below what comparable draftees were getting and lower even than what MLB guidelines suggest for a high first-round pick. Loewen balked at the offer -- he was seeking $4.8 mil -- and instead played for Canada at the World Junior Championships last summer before heading for Chipola Junior College near Tallahassee, which appears to be the Homestead Grays for holdout draftees.
The choice of a JuCo was an intriguing one. Had Loewen followed up on his intention to attend Arizona State, he would have committed to a three-year stay with the Wildcats, whereas Chiploa was but a one-year commitment. Moreover, he's considered a draft-and-follow, which means he could still sign with Baltimore after Chiploa's season ends, right up to a week before the 2003 draft, or he could re-enter the draft and become available to anyone. Not only that, but Loewen can swing the bat too, and tore the cover off the ball during the Worlds at first base and in the outfield (.733 BA). Considering that he currently tops the MLB Scouting Bureau rankings, it seems certain he wouldn't last past the fourth pick this time either.
Loewen's decision is also interesting with regard to draft pick bonuses, one of the topics discussed during the labour negotiations last summer but never resolved. Pretty much everyone, it seems, wants to see these bonuses decrease, except of course for the agents. Several Scott Boras clients were stonewalled at the bargaining table in the weeks after the draft, and there was a strong sense that teams were starting to finally draw the line and refuse to shell out millions to young men who had never thrown a professional (or in many cases, even a collegiate) pitch. Bobby Brownlie, a Boras client taken 21st overall by the Cubs, has also refused to sign for $2 million, though he hasn't gone back to college and is in a sort of limbo. The fate of players like Brownlie and Loewen may well indicate which way the tides are turning in the relationship between clubs and their high draft picks.
For Loewen, his choice isn't without risks. One more year of college ball, even at the JuCo level, is one more year risking a rotator cuff blowout or similar injury and losing millions of dollars in future earnings. And it's not like he has a lot of room to improve his draft position or the likely signing bonus to accompany it. But frankly, anything that keeps our young friend from B.C. away from the Orioles' organization has to be considered a good thing; Loewen should review Sidney Ponson's career if he wants a taste of what could come. And I'm willing to bet that the owners' self-imposed fiscal discipline in these matters will last only until one team decides to break the bank on the next can't-miss prospect, and then it's back to business as usual. And in any event, if Loewen really believes he's worth more than $2 million, he might as well stick to his guns.
It's going to be an intriguing story, well worth following. Whatever the result, here's hoping Loewen soon embarks on a healthy and successful pro career, and that he fulfills his potential to perhaps become the first Canadian pitcher to seriously warrant a comparison to Ferguson Jenkins.