Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- Adam Loewen is huge.
That's the first thing you notice when the 21-year-old left-hander - considered by many to be the Orioles' finest pitching prospect - strides to the mound.
Then, the 6-foot-5 Loewen lifts his right leg slightly, loops his left arm high above his torso and sends a fastball thumping into the catcher's mitt. The satisfying thud of a Loewen four-seamer is one of the sensations that has Orioles coaches and executives excited this spring.
"I saw Adam in the past and didn't see the power arm we drafted," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "But he has that power arm now."
Loewen is working on a unique clock, because his contract says he has to be on the big league club next season or be placed on waivers. That seemed like a nightmare as recently as last June, when the Canadian couldn't find the plate in Single-A Delmarva.
But his command of three pitches improved in the second half of last season. And then, he hit the Arizona Fall League. There, Loewen dominated some of the best hitters in the minors, going 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in seven appearances. Several talent evaluators said he was the best pitching prospect at the annual talent-fest.
"Once I succeeded there, I felt like I belonged," Loewen said. "I felt I had finally taken a step forward instead of a step back."
After that performance, Orioles officials seem almost serene at the notion of having Loewen on next year's roster.
"They'll tell us when they fit in, but certainly, he has the ability to move up," Perlozzo said.
"At this point, I think it makes no difference," minor league director David Stockstill said of Loewen's contract. "He is improving so fast and his tools are so good, that it's not even a concern."
For his part, Loewen, who expects to start the year at Double-A Bowie, said he feels no extra pressure because of the contract. "I like it a lot," he said. "When the time comes, I'll be ready to go."
Loewen was the team's first-round pick, fourth overall, in the 2002 draft. His lively 93-mph fastball and big curve had scouts tittering. He had the makings of a rare lefty ace.
But Loewen took nearly a year to sign. His $3.2 million bonus and $4.02 million contract add up to the biggest deal the club has ever given a draftee. He pitched well enough in rookie ball, then struggled terribly when he reached Single-A in 2004, walking more than six batters every nine innings.
He also suffered a slight tear in his labrum that year but addressed it with rehabilitation.
His struggles continued during spring training and early last season. Walks continued to be his chief enemy. "I just wasn't in shape," Loewen said.
Even those prospect watchers who had hailed Loewen's gifts began to abandon ship.
"Obviously, his ceiling is through the roof," Jim Callis of Baseball America said. "But you can't just keep saying he'll be great if it all comes together when you don't ever see it come together." Loewen said his confidence soared after he earned a save at the Futures Game, a mid-summer gathering of top minor-league talent. He then posted a dominant stretch of starts in July and August. But Arizona was his true coming-out party.
"You get a very good read not only on how a guy is doing but on his work ethic," Stockstill said of Arizona. "Your coaches aren't there to sit down on you, so you really have to do the work yourself."
Callis said he normally doesn't get too excited about fall league numbers. "But in Loewen's case, the exciting thing was that we saw real progress in the areas he needed to work on," he said. "Now, let's see him do it again this year."
Loewen showed up to Orioles camp in terrific shape, causing club officials to praise his maturity in a way they wouldn't have last spring.
"There's no question we can talk about him in a different way today than we could a year ago," Stockstill said.
"I think the big difference from last year is that I stayed healthy the whole year," Loewen said. "When you work 180 innings, you learn a lot from yourself and from your pitching coaches."
"It's gonna be awesome," Loewen said. "I've been looking forward to it since the idea first came out."
Despite the positive early reviews, Loewen has struggled with control during side throwing sessions.
And pitching coach Leo Mazzone said he'll withhold judgment until he sees the youngster pitch in games. Mazzone has already advised Loewen to dump his two-seam fastball and hammer hitters with his heavier, faster four-seam pitch.
"Wasn't he signed because of his power?" Mazzone said. "Well, the four-seamer is a power fastball."
"He knows I'm a power pitcher," Loewen said. "He really wants me to get on top of my fastball and drive down."
Vice president Jim Duquette said Loewen has looked overpowering since accepting Mazzone's tip.
"Now," Duquette said, "he looks like he belongs."