Loewen's transition has few bumps
Former pitcher taking to new life as a position player quite well
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Adam Loewen bolted around the bases, head down and arms pumping while the baseball he hit a few seconds earlier skipped down the right-field line at Dunedin Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
Loewen tore around second base for the Blue Jays and pulled up at third, making a triple look like an easy task. In the far corner of the ballpark, though, veteran Matt Stairs -- manning the outfield for Team Canada -- threw his arms up to point out that the ball had slipped through an open gate down by Toronto's clubhouse.
Hands on his hips and catching his breath, Loewen turned around and retreated to second base after the line drive was ruled a ground-rule double in the fourth inning. Either way, it marked the first extra-base hit of the spring for Loewen, who is getting reacquainted with the batter's box after being forced to walk away from a promising pitching career.
It was also a hit that Loewen isn't likely to forget soon.
"That was a lot of fun," said Loewen, who then laughed. "I thought Stairs kicked it under the fence so he didn't have to throw it in."
Sitting in the stands behind home plate was Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who has been impressed with Loewen's showing so far this spring. Toronto wasn't sure what was in store when it signed Loewen to a two-year Minor League contract in October. Loewen presented a project, but one that the organization believes could pay off down the road.
From what Ricciardi has already seen in the early portion of this Spring Training, the general manager feels Loewen has the ability to adjust to being a full-time position player without much of a problem. Loewen has shown good swing mechanics, and it will be more about repetition than trying to correct many flaws in his approach.
That is a positive sign, considering the last time Loewen hit regularly before this year was seven years ago with Chipola Junior College.
"He looks like he hasn't missed a beat," Ricciardi said. "I didn't really know what to expect, but once I saw him take batting practice, you knew he had a pretty good idea of what he was doing. Probably the most impressive thing is he's facing left-handers and stuff, and he doesn't even flinch.
"He's done a great job. He's fortunate. He's gifted. Most guys, when they lose their arm, they can't go do the other thing."
Loewen -- a native of Surrey, British Columbia -- was once a top pitching prospect in the Orioles' system. He joined baseball's professional ranks surrounded by plenty of hype after Baltimore made him the highest-selected Canadian in baseball history (fourth overall in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft). A stress fracture in his left elbow convinced him to walk away from the mound last season, though.
|"He's done a great job. He's fortunate. He's gifted. Most guys, when they lose their arm, they can't go do the other thing."|
|-- General manager J.P. Ricciardi, on Adam Loewen|
With bats in tow, Loewen took part in the instructional league with the Orioles last fall, and he headed to Hawaii for winter ball shortly after signing with the Jays. From the start of games this spring, Toronto manager Cito Gaston has put Loewen in his lineup, handing him playing time in right field. The consistent playing time has helped Loewen grow more comfortable at the plate.
Of Toronto's six Grapefruit League games, Loewen has appeared in five. Overall, including exhibition games against Team Canada and Team USA this week, Loewen has hit .250 (3-for-12) with two runs, two RBIs and a pair of walks in seven games.
With right fielder Alex Rios playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, Gaston has been able to play Loewen more often. The 24-year-old Loewen has also been taking ground balls at first base, but he said he's less comfortable in the outfield. That being the case, he prefers to stay in right so he can work on improving.
"I've had the luxury of playing every day," Loewen said. "I didn't expect to play this much this early on, so it's been great. It's really helped for me to get back in there if I have a slow day or need to work on something. That really helps me out."
Gaston plans on playing Loewen as much as he can as the spring moves along.
"I like him a lot -- I really do," Gaston said. "He's done really well. He's someone who I think is going to be fine."
It might be easier for the Blue Jays to feel that way in light of how Loewen has looked at the plate. His swing mechanics are ahead of expectations, and Loewen said he's even ahead of where he thought he'd be offensively at this point.
In the batting cage, Loewen said he's been told to continue what he's already been doing.
"I'm just working on repeating what I've got right now," Loewen said. "I feel comfortable with where I'm at. We've really worked on me staying back these last couple weeks, and really that's as simple as it gets right now. There's no big thing that we're trying to tweak or make better right now. It's just staying back and seeing the ball a little bit longer.
"It's been great. They really haven't tried to tinker with anything too much and that just helps how comfortable I feel out there. If I'm trying something new every day, it's not going to work out. They've really shown confidence in me and my swing and my ability, so I think that transfers onto the field."
The feeling within the organization is that it will likely take at least 1,000 professional at-bats before Loewen might be ready to attempt a jump to the big league stage. Ricciardi said Loewen will likely open this season with high Class A Dunedin, and a move up to Double-A New Hampshire could come later in the year.
"I think that's fair to him," Ricciardi said. "He's not ready for Double-A, but this will be a good place for him. It'll be building blocks from there. I think the most important thing is trying to get him 500 at-bats. Wherever we can do that is only going to help his progress."
Loewen isn't worried about where he begins the season
"That's out of my hands," Loewen said. "That's something I learned coming up as a pitcher. I think that's going to help me out, just understanding how they move guys and when they feel they're ready. That doesn't really apply to me. I'm just going to try to get a lot better every day."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.