COMMENTARY | In 2006, the Baltimore Orioles' front office was so giddy with their top draft choice that then-scouting director Joe Jordan nearly compared high school shortstop Billy Rowell to the iconic Cal Ripken Jr.
Six years and 1,966 minor-league at-bats later, the comparison seems even more blasphemous as the O's will officially cut ties with Rowell at the end of this season, solidifying him as the worst Orioles draft whiff in franchise history.
William Rowell's ability to accrue frequent flyer miles with his tape-measure moonshots made him the stuff of legend in his native New Jersey. His left-handed swing inspired Baltimore to sign Rowell, the ninth overall pick of his draft class, to a $2.1 million bonus, taking him one spot ahead of two-time CY Young winner Tim Lincecum. Unfortunately, for the Birdland brass, the swing it scouted proved to have warning-track power in the minors.
While "The Freak" was ringing up big-league hitters and leading San Francisco to two World Series championships, Billy Rowell struggled to find the vaunted power stroke that set a new home run record at his Alma mater. The third baseman hit 40 home runs over six minor-league seasons, with 27 of those bombs coming at the Single-A level. Rowell was given multiple opportunities to climb through the Orioles' farm system as management moved and started him at third base, first base, and right field before moving back to the hot corner.
Rowell found himself in trouble away from the diamond as well, flunking two drug tests because of marijuana use in 2009 and 2012. The second violation earned him a 50-game suspension. After serving his penalty, the left-handed slugger stepped out of the batter's box and onto the mound, attempting to reach the majors as a pitcher. Rowell's starting rotation renaissance fizzled shortly after arm soreness curtailed a throwing regiment at the club's spring training complex in Sarasota. Rowell was sent home and never recalled.
Despite earning the biggest signing bonus in franchise history on draft day -- since surpassed by Matt Wieters and Manny Machado -- Rowell never logged a single inning in Baltimore. In the end, the prospect the Orioles drafted to replace Cal Ripken Jr.'s bat proved to be more Ironbird than Ironman. Billy Rowell will spend the rest of this season on Aberdeen's roster, and Baltimore will officially cut him after the 2013 World Series.
Mateo Samper is a sports blogger, freelance writer, and lifelong follower of the Baltimore Orioles. Follow him on Twiiter @matrostation.
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