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Orioles “diss” their $2 million man

September 22nd, 2011 · 1 Comment · Baseball, Blog

The most decorated player to come out of the 2006 draft went 10th overall, to the Giants. San Francisco, looking to rebuild after its first losing season in nearly a decade, signed righthander Tim Lincecum to a $2,025,000 deal and he shot through the system, reaching the big leagues less than a year later. “The Freak” won the first of his back-to-back Cy Young Awards the following season, and surpassed the 1,000 strikeout plateau earlier this year. A four-time All Star, he didn’t allow an earned run in 37 postseason innings last fall, going 4-1 as he led the Giants to the World Series title.

The man drafted immediately ahead of Lincecum hasn’t been quite as successful.

Billy Rowell has made one all-star team since signing with the Orioles for $2.1 million as the ninth overall pick. That was Baseball America’s ’06 postseason all-Rookie league lineup, after he hit .329 with 20 extra-base hits in 152 at-bats for Bluefield in the Appalachian League. That marked the peak of his career. He batted a respectable .273 with a .761 OPS at Low A Delmarva the following year, then took up long-term residence in Frederick, Md., where he spent the next three seasons trying to master the High A Carolina League.

This season Rowell finally graduated to Double-A, batting .227 with two extra-base hits (both doubles) and striking out 41 times in 119 at-bats for Bowie before an ankle injury in late June sent him to the disabled list. The first baseman worked his way back to health in 17 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but never returned to Bowie or any higher level club.

Apparently, he wasn’t enamored with his results or how the Orioles used him this year. In an interview with MASN’s Steve Melewski that really must be read in full to be believed, Rowell unloaded on a variety of organizational targets, including the poor guy who took his place on the Bowie roster late in the year, Aaron Baker, who came over from the Pirates in a trade for Derrek Lee this summer.

“I was supposed to go to Florida for two weeks according to (director of player development) John Stockstill,” Rowell told Melewski. “Two weeks in Florida and then come back to Bowie. That was the plan. I was good (healthy) after two weeks, then they brought up the guy they traded for Derrek Lee—what’s his name, Baker?

“They bring him up and he gets dominated in Double-A. The game was way too fast for him. You know what I mean? They bring him up so it looks like the Derrek Lee trade was a good trade and they diss the guy they gave $2 million to. It’s cool, it’s their business. But I don’t feel like it was carried out in the right manner.

“If I gave anyone $2 million, I would give them the highest resources possibly available and the most knowledge possibly available.”

Baker, who hit Class A pitching a hell of a lot better than Rowell ever did, did struggle with Bowie, hitting just .196 in 46 at-bats, striking out 19 times and failing to draw a single walk. Of course, he matched Rowell’s extra-base production with two doubles. And in just three minor league seasons, Baker has hit 38 home runs, compared with the 40 Rowell has managed in six years.

But by all means, Billy, feel free to run the guy down in an interview. While you’re at it, go ahead and criticize the entire organization.

“Is there a good chance (I’m done with Baltimore), no. I still think they want to make sure they can salvage their investment, if they were smart. If not, that’s cool. I would salvage that investment though,” he said.

“If you watch my batting practice, it’s not like the power is gone. The power has increased since I started in the minors. It just hasn’t translated into the game. It’s not like the tools are not there.”

How much longer should the Orioles want to wait for that power to translate? A 2006 Baseball America scouting report pondered whether it would: “The only question about Rowell offensively is how well his enormous batting practice power translates to top game competition, but he has played well in some elite showcase events.”

The feeling then was he had a legitimate corner bat, whether in the outfield or infield. The feeling now is he doesn’t. And on top of the questions regarding his production, add immaturity and attitude to the equation.

At a certain point, which many young men would have reached long before their sixth minor league season, players have to take responsibility for their failures in the game. Instead of bad-mouthing the Orioles for not doing all they can to “salvage their investment,” maybe he should have put a little more effort into salvaging his career.

I’ll guess the Orioles won’t be protecting Rowell on their 40-man roster this December, assuming they don’t release him before then. Judging by this interview—not to mention his utter lack of production—it’s hard to imagine any other team wanting to take a shot on him, even as a low-cost acquisition in the minor league Rule 5 draft. Who’d want him infecting their farmhands with this kind of negativity?

At no point in the interview does he own up to his failures. At no point does he say, hey, you know, I really need to step back and do this or that differently. Instead he complains about being “dissed” and makes statements like:

“It is not a year I wanted to have.”

“The season didn’t go as planned.”

“I didn’t hit for the power, I understand. But maybe it would have clicked. You don’t know.”

“But this is the deal with me: I just don’t want to be another (expletive) player in the system. If I can’t be dominant, I don’t want to play. It’s that simple.”

If I can’t be dominant, I don’t want to play. It’s that simple. Coming from a guy who hasn’t been dominant since high school, that really does simplify things. It sounds from this corner like he’d rather walk away than put in the necessary effort to become even average, let alone dominant.

Coaches and scouts often refer to makeup as the “sixth tool.” Desire, hustle, a willingness to work hard–things that can’t be taught make a player’s other tools play up. They spell the difference between the guys who make it and the guys who quit and go home.

Don’t let the clubhouse door hit you in the wallet on the way out, Billy.

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  • James Bailey

    Hat tip to Ben Badler for tweeting the link to the original interview this afternoon.