Orioles may have a gem in Loewen

Joe from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, writes: What do you expect from Orioles prospect Adam Loewen? And, oh, yeah, are you any relation to the General Sickles who commanded the Union III Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg?

Loewen is probably the best prospect the Orioles have right now, and someone to watch closely in a rapidly improving Baltimore organization. Loewen was the fourth-overall pick in the 2002 draft, out of high school in Canada. He didn't sign right away, going instead to Chipola Junior College in Florida. The Orioles managed to sign him in the "draft-and-follow" window just before the 2003 draft. If he'd gone back in the draft pool, he would have been a top 10 pick once again.

Statistically, Loewen doesn't have much of a record just yet. The Orioles limited him to just 23 innings after signing, though he pitched well (2.70 ERA, 25/9 K/BB with 13 hits allowed in the New York-Penn League). He should start this season in A-ball. I don't think we'll see him in the Show before late 2005 at the earliest, but in terms of raw ability, he's one of the better lefties around.

Loewen is tall at 6-6, but has filled out his frame and is now listed at 220 pounds. His fastball can hit 95 mph, but usually works at 90-93. The pitch has excellent movement, but he sometimes has trouble throwing strikes with it. His curveball is better than his fastball at this point, giving him two plus pitches with which to overpower hitters. Loewen needs a better changeup, but scouts like his composure on the mound and general feel for pitching.

If he stays healthy and continues to refine his command, Loewen could be a staff ace. But he doesn't turn 20 until April, so we need to keep expectations at a reasonable level for now. Excellent potential, but let's keep our eyes in our sockets, in other words.

As for General Sickles, he was not a direct relation, but almost everyone named Sickels or Sickles in this country is descended from a large family of Dutch immigrants who came to the New Amsterdam (later New York) colony in the 1660s. My ancestors did, as well as General Sickles', so he's very likely a distant relative of some kind. If you're interested in Civil War history, check out Dan Sickles. He was a bizarre guy.

Jay asks: I was hoping you could talk about Chad Gaudin of the Devil Rays. He was 20 years old last year and more than held his own in the Show. Why doesn't he get more notice, and why do some experts say that his place in the majors will be in the bullpen?

I agree that Gaudin hasn't received the attention he deserves, probably because he is a Devil Ray. He was drafted in the 34th round in 2001, out of high school in Metairie, Louisiana. He had an LSU scholarship, but decided to go pro. Two years later he was in the majors, quite a jump for a 34th-round pick. He posted a 3.60 ERA in 40 innings for the D-Rays last year, and is expected to be in the bullpen for them this season.

Although he was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues, scouts project Gaudin as a reliever because he is a short guy, and has just two good pitches right now. His height (listed 5-10, but possibly shorter) gives him less physical projectability than taller pitchers. His fastball is average in velocity at 88-90 mph, though he throws it for strikes aggressively. His slider is also very good, and he has done a good job of mixing his two main pitches. His changeup is mediocre, and while he can improve it with experience, he's probably best served by using the fastball/slider combination in relief for now.

Even if he doesn't return to starting long-term, you have to be impressed by someone who goes from 34th round high school pick to major league reliever in two years.

Jason writes: The Cardinals claimed Luis Martinez off of waivers from the Brewers in late February. Where does he rank as far as top 10 prospects go? Is he even in the top 10? I know he was named minor league pitcher of the year for the Brewers in '03. It sounds like the Cardinals got lucky in getting him.

The Brewers put Martinez on waivers after he was accused of shooting a man to death this winter in the Dominican Republic, although the shooting was ruled self-defense and Martinez was cleared of criminal charges.

Martinez is a tall lefty at 6-6, with decent stuff: 88-92 mph fastball, decent curve and changeup. He is deceptive and handled the Double-A and Triple-A levels just fine last year, but struggled in four starts in the majors with the Brewers. He's not massively overpowering, but he has enough velocity and movement on his pitches to handle major league competition if he can improve his command. He left too many pitches up in the strike zone for the Brewers, posting a 9.92 ERA in his four appearances.

For the Brewers, he was probably their 10th or 12th best prospect, likely ticketed for Triple-A to start the year, but with a promotion on the agenda as soon as the Brewers needed a pitcher. The Cardinals system is much thinner, so he would definitely rank in their top 10 and possibly in their top five prospects overall. He's not a tremendous prospect, but as a lefty with a pulse and a decent arm, he will be around for a long time in one role or another.

Roger from Palo Alto, California, asks: The Giants seem to have the knack for developing pitchers. One guy who looks interesting is Matt Cain, their first-round pick in 2002. What's the scoop on him? Why did he pitch just 74 innings last year?

Cain was drafted by the Giants in the first round (25th overall) in the 2002 draft, out of high school in Germantown, Tennessee. He made 14 starts last year for Class A Hagerstown, posting a 2.55 ERA and 90/24 K/BB in 74 innings. The K/IP ratio was particularly impressive. Cain was limited to 14 starts by a stress fracture in his elbow, but he returned from the injury quickly and is supposed to be healthy now.

I hope that's true, because he could be a special pitcher. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, and both his curveball and changeup are advanced for a pitcher his age. He has all the mental and emotional intangibles scouts look for in a young moundsman, and he could be one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues this year, provided his health holds up.

So I agree with you, Cain certainly looks "interesting," and possibly much more than that. Here's hoping his arm stays healthy.

John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, is also out, and can be ordered through on-line book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.