The Orioles got the player they wanted yesterday when they selected power-hitting high school third baseman Bill Rowell with the ninth overall pick in baseball's amateur draft.
Many scouts rated Rowell, a product of Bishop Eustace Prep in Pennsauken, N.J., as the best power bat in a draft that didn't have many elite offensive prospects.
"We feel like it's a middle-of-the-order bat that's going to play a position where, at least in our organization, we don't have a lot of depth," said Orioles director of scouting Joe Jordan.
Rowell models himself after some other power-hitting Orioles infielders.
"I am definitely a Phillies fan, but I've been an Orioles fan for a long time. I've followed [Miguel] Tejada and especially Cal Ripken, he was one of my childhood idols."
And Rowell is excited to be living less than two hours from Camden Yards.
"I wanted the Orioles to pick me, I felt that would be the best team," he said. "I was crossing my fingers and saying my prayers. It's such a great situation."
And not a bad way to end his graduation day.
"Everything turned out perfectly," Rowell said.
The club added junior college pitcher Pedro Beato, ranked the 13th best prospect by Baseball America, with its supplemental first-round pick, the 32nd overall.
Though recent first-round picks Nick Markakis and Adam Loewen are with the team now, the Orioles have made more than their share of disastrous selections over the years. From pitchers Beau Hale (2000) and Chris Smith (2001), who got hurt, to outfielders Darnell McDonald (1997) and Keith Reed (1999), who never developed, they seemed to find every draft pitfall.
But Jordan took over last year and many outside evaluators said the Orioles had their best draft in years.
The Orioles seemed to follow with another strong effort yesterday. Jim Callis of Baseball America said many of the team's picks could easily have gone higher. "They made some good, solid value picks," he said. "The top of their draft looks real nice."
The draft unfolded in surprising fashion. The Kansas City Royals began by selecting Luke Hochevar, a hard-throwing right-hander who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers last year but never signed. North Carolina starter Andrew Miller, long projected to be the No. 1 pick, dropped to the Detroit Tigers at sixth overall.
Many scouts regarded the left-handed-hitting Rowell, 17, as the best high school position player in the draft. Baseball America said he had the second-best power and second-best strike-zone judgment among all high school prospects.
Word of his raw power spread after he hit a 500-foot shot during a home run-hitting contest last year. He is batting .557 with six homers and a .660 on-base percentage this year.
"We're very excited about the bat," Jordan said. "His power is easy power, and it's to all fields, so we're excited about him."
Rowell, 6 feet 5, played shortstop in high school but scouts said he wouldn't have enough range to stay there. Jordan said he has good hands and an excellent arm that could also allow him to play right field.
"He's a great kid," said Rowell's agent, Gregg Clifton. "In basketball, you've heard about a gym-rat kid. Well, this kid is a ballfield rat. He plays baseball all the time."
Clifton said Rowell has a batting cage in his basement and one in his backyard so he can hit 12 months a year.
Clifton, who also represents Orioles pitcher Kris Benson and former Oriole B.J. Surhoff, said Rowell can't be signed until after his baseball season ends Saturday, but said he is "always optimistic that we can get something done."
Though the Orioles have Melvin Mora signed through at least 2009, they don't have a highly rated third base prospect in their system. If all goes as planned, Rowell would be on the cusp of the majors when Mora's deal runs out.
The Orioles may have gotten a steal in Beato. He was a rising high school prospect before he had Tommy John surgery following his junior season in 2004. The New York Mets selected him in the 17th round last year and followed him all season as he raised his stock pitching at St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College.
But the Mets could not sign Beato, 19, before the May 31 deadline, and the Orioles swooped in to pick him.
"He's very strong," Jordan said. "He's a 6-foot-6 kid that's going to be an innings eater. We'd seen him hit 95 or 96 mph [on his fastball] this year with both a breaking ball and a changeup."
Orioles draft picks
Round 1: No. 9 Bill Rowell, 3B, Bishop Eustace Prep, N.J.; No. 32 Pedro Beato, RHP, St. Petersburg JC, N.Y. Round 2: No. 58 Ryan Adams, 3B, Jesuit HS, La. Round 3: No. 85 Zachary Britton, LHP, Weatherford HS, Texas. Round 4: No. 115 Blake Davis, SS, Cal St. Fullerton. Round 5: No. 145 Bobby Henson, SS, Tuttle HS, Okla. Round 6: No. 175 Jason Berken, RHP, Clemson. Round 7: No. 205 Joshua Tamba, RHP, Cypress College. Round 8: No. 235 Jedidiah Stephen, SS, Ohio State. Round 9: No. 265 Brett Bordes, LHP, Arizona State. Round 10: No. 295 Emeel Salem, CF, Alabama Tuscaloosa. Round 11: No. 325 Anthony Martinez, 1B, Louisburg College. Round 12: No. 355 Brandon Trip, OF, Cal St. Fullerton. Round 13: No. 385 Ryan Ouellette, RHP, Indian River CC, Fla. Round 14: No. 415 Brett Allar, RHP, Texas Christian. Round 15: No. 445 Dustin Black, C, Cleveland State CC. Round 16: No. 475 Justin Johnson, C, Illinois. Round 17: No. 505 Anthony Watson, LHP, Nebraska.