Billy Rowell homered off former teammate and Baltimore Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz in an intrasquad game during Spring Training. At the time, the 21-year-old was planning on heading to Double-A Bowie to continue his transition from third base to right field.
So what is Rowell doing back at third base and back in a Frederick Keys uniform? If opening a third consecutive season in the Class A Advanced Carolina League bothers the former first-round pick, he isn't letting on.
"A lot of fans, a lot of scouts, they 'should' things on players," explained Rowell, the ninth overall pick in 2006. "Right now, I feel like I'm at a good point in my career. I can move forward from here."
The Orioles have been waiting patiently on the left-handed hitter, who was projected as a slugging third baseman but hasn't cultivated a power stroke. Hoping to take advantage of his cannon-like right arm, the Orioles moved him to right field last year. The switch turned into another disappointment in a year in which Rowell hit just .225 -- his lowest average in four Minor League seasons -- with nine homers and 39 RBIs.
Rowell was ticketed for Double-A Bowie, but five days before Orioles Minor Leaguers broke Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., new player development director John Stockstill informed Rowell he would report to Frederick and move back to third base.
"[Stockstill] said it's almost like being a college graduate and getting drafted as a top pick," Rowell said. "I'd be here in Frederick."
Working with new Keys coach Denny Hocking, Rowell has returned to a more compact swing.
"It's easier to hit with two strikes now. I don't want to get too technical, but it's a more comfortable swing for me," said Rowell, who is batting .255 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 13 games. "The biggest thing in the box is not thinking about anything. Think very small and big things will happen; that's what I'm doing right now. If I see a pitch, I'm going to hit it."
Rowell is still striking out too much -- 15 times in 47 at-bats -- but he's already drawn eight walks. He walked only 35 times in 120 games last year.
Hocking, in his first Minor League coaching assignment, wants to impart the knowledge culled from a 13-year Major League career with Minnesota, Colorado and Kansas City.
"A lot of the stuff I'm passing on to these guys is stuff I've learned from guys I played with, guys like Kirby Puckett, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield. I got a lot of my baseball knowledge from Hall of Famers," Hocking said.
Rowell is an eager, yet realistic, student. He knows Brandon Waring, last year's Carolina League MVP with 26 homers and 90 RBIs, surpassed him on the organizational depth chart at third base. He also knows he has to win back supporters in the farm system so he won't be considered a bust.
"It really doesn't matter where you go," he said. "If you dominate for half a year, they might move me up to Double-A for half a year. There might be a hamstring pull somewhere and I get moved up. You don't know in this game. There's a lot of ifs."
Tough break: Salem Red Sox LHP Fabian Williamson gave up only one hit on April 21 against Lynchburg, and a bad break may have cost the Red Sox a no-hitter. Hillcats leadoff batter Josh Fellhauer got his team's lone hit in the first inning when he rapped a grounder on which 2B Oscar Tejeda and SS Ryan Dent collided. It was scored a hit and Fellhauer eventually came home on a sacrifice fly in Lynchburg's 9-1 loss.
Target practice: Red Sox IF Jon Hee has been hit by pitches six times in 18 games. The Carolina League record is 24, set by Winston-Salem's Rusty Crockett in 1989.
Long time coming: When Amadeo Zazueta homered on April 21 against Winston-Salem, it was the Myrtle Beach shortstop's first roundtripper since Aug. 16, 2006, when he went deep for the Rookie-level Greeneville Astros. ... Wilmington RHP Jairo Cuevas picked up the win against Winston-Salem on April 23, his first in a full-season game since July 23, 2007, when he pitched for Myrtle Beach and beat Frederick.