Bill Rowell, who quickly emerged as one of the Orioles' top prospects after being taken with the ninth overall pick in last year's draft, is nearing his first at-bats of the 2007 season.
Rowell remains at extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla., the only competition he's had because of a strained oblique muscle. He could be assigned to low Single-A Delmarva later this week because of the significant progress he's making.
"He's doing real well, from everything I hear," said Dean Albany, the scout who signed Rowell. "He's running good, he's playing pain-free. He feels great."
The Orioles have been careful with Rowell because his injury is the type that can linger. Outfielder Nolan Reimold, also an elite prospect, went back on the disabled list with the same injury.
Rowell batted .329 with two homers and 26 RBIs in 42 games at Rookie-level Bluefield and .326 with one homer and six RBIs in 11 games at short-season Single-A Aberdeen. Baseball America named him the Orioles' top prospect.
Albany doesn't believe the injury will hurt Rowell's development this year.
"He's a young kid," Albany said. "Sometimes that full season's a grind for you. I'm not trying to say this is going to help him. But it makes a long season a little shorter. I don't think it hurts him at all. In fact, I think he goes to Delmarva and picks up where he left off last year. I don't see anything standing in his way.
"He's going to hit. He's going to hit a ton."
Rowell remains at third base, though it's possible that he'll outgrow the position. He's listed at 6 feet 5, 205 pounds, but one person in the organization said Rowell's weight is closer to 225.
"I would definitely keep him there as long as possible," Albany said. "Troy Glaus has played third at the same height. And Billy seems to have quit growing. He hasn't grown in a year. If he got to 6-9, we might have problems. But I don't think at 6-5 there's going to be any problem for him at third base.
"He's got a strong arm; he has first-step quickness. In high school, he played shortstop very well. This kid moves good for a big kid. He runs the 60 in 6.6. He can fly. He's an above-average runner."
Catcher J.R. House entered the weekend tied for second in the International League with 39 hits and was seventh with a .331 average. He was batting .474 during a five-game hitting streak, and had reached base in 28 of his 31 games. If only the Orioles could find a position for him. ... Reliever Paul Shuey, still on the comeback trail, had a 5.40 ERA in eight games. He allowed 13 hits in 10 innings, walking five and striking out 11. ... Corner infielder Mike Cervenak became the fourth Norfolk player to put together a hitting streak of 10 or more games. He was tied for second in the league with 39 hits and led Norfolk with 20 runs and a .508 slugging percentage. He singled in a run in Friday's 7-1 loss to Charlotte. ... Rob Bell, a candidate to join the Orioles' rotation, struck out nine batters in seven innings Friday. He allowed three runs and five hits. ... Another candidate, left-hander Garrett Olson, has struck out 19 and walked none in his past two starts. ... Jim Johnson has allowed three earned runs or fewer in four of his five starts.
Catcher Eli Whiteside was demoted from Norfolk to Bowie after batting .180 in 18 games. ... Jim Hoey could be pushing for a promotion. Going into the weekend, he was 1-0 with five saves and hadn't allowed a run in 10 innings. ... Radhames Liz has struck out 37 batters in his past six starts, covering 31 1/3 innings. ... Left-hander Rommie Lewis lowered his ERA from 4.50 to 2.25 in five appearances, tossing eight scoreless innings in relief. ... Left-hander Chris Waters ranks third in the Eastern League with 40 1/3 innings. He's 0-2 in his past three starts despite going at least seven innings in each appearance and lowering his ERA from 6.46 to 4.02 in 22 innings. ... Third baseman Oscar Salazar ranked third in the league with 37 hits and was batting .310 with two homers, nine RBIs and six runs in his past 10 games. He was batting .342 on the road and .213 at home.
Brandon Erbe exceeded his career long in innings pitched four times this season before being put on a strict pitch count Friday. Erbe threw only 33 pitches in his start against Myrtle Beach, walking three of the five batters he faced. ... Catcher Brian Bock moved down from Bowie on Friday and played in his 123rd game with Frederick, spanning four seasons. ... Outfielder Jacob Duncan ranked second in the Carolina League with a .333 average going into the weekend. Second baseman Jonathan Tucker (.316) was sixth and shortstop Blake Davis (.315) seventh. ... Davis reached base in 24 straight games, a streak that ended last Monday. ... First baseman Ryan Finan raised his average 161 points since April 23, batting .339 in his past 17 games before the weekend. He was hitting .311 at home and .213 on the road. ... Going into yesterday's start, David Hernandez had allowed two earned runs or fewer in five of seven outings and led the league with 40 strikeouts.
First baseman Christopher Vinyard led the South Atlantic League with 34 RBIs and ranked second with eight homers and 19 extra-base hits. In his past 10 games, he was hitting .395 with three homers and 14 RBIs. ... Second baseman Pedro Silveren was hitting .409 in his past eight games. ... Reliever Bruce Gallaway had 18 strikeouts in 14 innings. ... Reid Hamblet allowed two earned runs in his past 15 innings, covering six appearances. He was 2-0 and hadn't allowed a run in four home games, a span of 10 innings. ... Jeffrey Moore hasn't earned a decision since April 12 despite allowing two runs or fewer and lasting five innings or more in all seven of his starts.