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Markakis a hit in Carolina League
05/26/2005 11:24 AM ET
WILMINGTON, DE -- Adam Loewen won't gloat when it comes to teammate Nick Markakis.

He just speaks matter-of-factly about the player considered by many to be Baltimore's top prospect. Loewen, who is highly regarded himself amongst Orioles farmhands, says he has faced Markakis five times in college and during various Spring Training scenarios and has fanned the young slugger three times.

Throw in a groundout and a walk, and that's a nice body of work against one of the more feared players in the Carolina League. For Markakis' sake, he'd better hope Loewen never gets dealt to another American League club because right now, he seems to be one of the few people who can handle the young outfielder's booming bat.

"He's a good hitter," Loewen said. "I just pitched him inside, got ahead in the count and made him chase a curve in the dirt. But if we faced each other 20 more times, I think he'd hit me."

That only stands to reason since Markakis has hit just about everyone else since the Orioles made him a first-round pick in the 2003 draft. Markakis entered this season with 12 homers and 92 RBIs in 155 Minor League games and has done little this year to diminish what he accomplished during his first two seasons as a pro. He's hitting .301 with four homers and 30 RBIs through 41 games for Class A Frederick.

Markakis is picking apart Carolina League pitching in much the same manner he shredded the pitching in the New York-Penn League and the South Atlantic League in 2003 and '04. He's stepping into his role as the No. 3 hitter for the Keys and doing so with flair, enough that he may be moving east to Double-A Bowie or north to Triple-A Ottawa before too long.

"I'm seeing a lot more off-speed stuff now that I'm hitting in the three-hole," Markakis said. "Anyone that's hitting in the three-hole is going to get pitched to carefully. But it's an honor to hit there, and it's a good experience for me. I'm waiting on pitches more, and I'm trying to get comfortable in the count. And with all the off-speed stuff, I'm trying not to pull everything.

"Each level is a little different. I'm just enjoying the experience and teaching myself to make the right adjustments. Right now it hasn't been too tough. I'm pretty happy with the way things are going."

As well he should be. Markakis turned down Cincinnati and its $1.5 million offer after drafting him in the 23rd round in 2002. He followed that up with a monstrous 2003 season at Young Harris Junior College, leading the Orioles to tab him quickly. Markakis was a standout pitcher in college, picking up 12 victories and 160 strikeouts in 2003, but he collected nearly 100 RBIs as a designated hitter and that's what piqued Baltimore's interest.

His bat, combined with his strong play and rifle arm in right field, make him one of the hottest commodities in the Carolina League. He collected a pair of hits, including a double, Tuesday night for the Keys in a 2-1 victory over the Blue Rocks, garnering a great deal of attention throughout the evening.

"Sometimes the attention is good, and sometimes it's bad," he said. "Everyone looks at you because you're a high-round pick. And that's an honor, but this is pro ball. It doesn't matter whether you're a first-round pick or a 50th-round pick. You still have to go out and perform, and you're still going to have ups and downs. And when you have the downs, you have to work through them."

The down times haven't been all that prevalent, though. Markakis struggled some, early in 2004, as he adjusted to his first full season away from the mound. But he got hot about a month into the season and went on a tear that took him all the way to the Olympic Games in Greece, where he hit .346 with a homer.

Markakis also made two relief appearances for the Greek team, the first pitching he had done since college. He says pitching remains in the back of his mind but admits that he doesn't think it would be prudent to play both positions now. Still, it's easy to see why his favorite player growing up was Roger Clemens.

"I like his attitude and how he goes after guys," Markakis said. "He plays hard and shows he's one of the best players in the game.

If he keeps it up, that's a tag that Markakis will soon be wearing, proudly.

"He's a solid player," Wilmington pitcher Jarrett Gardner said of Markakis. "I remember hearing about him in junior college. He's got a good bat. He's as close to a five-tool player as you're going to find in A-ball. His defensive skills are good, too. He's going to be moving up."

Unless, of course, he has to face Loewen.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.