Loewen still has potential 14 years after being drafted

By: Nick Ashbourne

Canadian Baseball Network

If it seems like a long time has passed since Adam Loewen became the highest-drafted Canadian of all time, that's because it has.

A great deal has happened since the southpaw out of Surrey, BC was taken fourth overall by the Baltimore Orioles. To give a sense of perspective, it was the first day of the Carlos Tosca era for the Toronto Blue Jays.

That day current manager John Gibbons took over as first base coach and Brian Butterfield claimed his spot at third base. That night Justin Miller pitched seven strong innings in a Blue Jays win, and the night before it was present-day pitching coach Pete Walker on the hill.

From a pop culture point of view, much like today, the day of Loewen's selection came in the wake of a big Star Wars release. Unfortunately, it was the unreservedly awful Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. 

We should probably leave it there before this simply becomes a fact sheet about what life was like in June 2002. The idea is that 14 years ago people were talking about what kind of big-league impact Loewen could make and that hasn't changed; even though almost everything else has.

In most cases discussing the potential a 31-year-old who's never had any sustained MLB success is a waste of time. If a player reaches that age and hasn't broken through yet there is very little reason to suspect it will happen. They may believe their big break is around the corner, but few would share in that belief.

However, anyone who's followed Loewen's career to this point knows that he's a bit of a different animal. The term "unique" is chronically overused to describe the talents of baseball players, but in Loewen's case it's not the slightest bit hyperbolic. The left-hander is the only player to crack the major leagues as a pitcher transition to a position player and then return as a pitcher once more. 

As a result,  Loewen hasn't had one career, he's had three. The first, as a starter, was ended due to injuries and ineffectiveness. The second, as an outfielder, as an outfielder, was brought to a close because his athletic tools didn't translate to consistent production at the plate. Now he's trying to show he can stick as a reliever and his last chance to carve out an MLB career might be his best one.

His journey back as a pitcher began on April 16 2014 when he signed a two-year minor-league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. That season he started 19 games across two levels (single-A and double-A) and posted a 3.26 ERA. While he kept runs off the board, he only struck out 6.7 batters per nine innings which showed he wasn't able to blow away minor-league hitters.

In 2015 the Phillies converted him to a reliever and his results were much better. In 58.1 innings he posted a 2.01 ERA and struck out 73 hitters. He even ascended to the closer role for the triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. 

Where things got difficult for Loewen was when he made his triumphant return to the major leagues. In 19 1/3 innings he posted a 6.98 ERA, walked a whopping 17 batters and allowed hitters to wallop him to the tune of a .274/.435/.465 line.

Once again, in the case of most players Loewen's age this would be a fatal setback. However, there were a couple of things in the 31-year-old's ugly performance that demonstrate potential he can build on as he re-learns his craft on the mound.

His average fastball velocity was very respectable 91.6 mph, a higher number than he ever posted as a starter. The reason it was getting knocked around wasn't that it didn't have enough juice, but because Loewen didn't know where it was going.

While finding fastball command is easier said than done, it's easier than finding velocity. With relatively few innings under his belt in recent years, it's understandable that Loewen might have some difficulty find the zone with his heater. It seems likely that this in an area where he can improve.

The greatest reason for optimism is the sweeping slider he showed in his return. When Loewen was with the Orioles he never used the pitch more than 7.9 percent of the time, but in his new incarnation as a reliever he bumped his usage up to 30.3 percent, making it his primary breaking ball and getting 13 of his 20 strikeouts with the pitch.

The action on this new-found slider is impressive, especially against left-handers. It was his go-to offering in his first strikeout back at the major-league level against Jake Lamb.

He also used it to fool Mets' slugger Lucas Duda on his last strikeout of the season.

Unlike his fastball, Loewen also showed an ability to consistently locate his slider where it needed to be: buried down and away to left-handers.

Putting all this information together you've got a pitcher who's learning a new role with promising stuff and some good minor-league results. Loewen's command needs to improve significantly if he's going to stick as a reliever, but the building blocks are there. 

 He may be 31, but in effect he's still a prospect of sorts. His winding career has left him far more raw than he should be for his age, but also with less wear-and-tear on his arm. 

Even in a best case scenario Loewen is exceedingly unlikely to be closing games for anyone any time soon. However, he does have the kind of repertoire that could work as a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out Guy). If he could find a niche doing that he could stick around for a while. Far longer than he managed to in more glamorous roles in the past.

The idea of Loewen finally making good on his unprecedented third act seems unbelievable, but the Arizona Diamondbacks have given him a chance in the form of a minor-league deal. It might be his last shot, but in the last 14 years he's had his fair share.