O’s Top-5: Draft Busts

Over the course of a few seasons, fans like to monitor players taken by their favorite team in the annual MLB Draft. They clamor for them to succeed through the minor leagues and reach their big league club in no time, to which the fanfare would be enormous.

On the other hand, general managers have to play the game and gamble on every pick. For many, it is a hit or miss, and usually somewhere in the draft, there always is a big surprise. But what about the failures that had so much hype, that it stands out as a club’s worst?

For the Baltimore Orioles, like many clubs, there will always be misses or “busts” as we like to say. On this edition of O’s Top-5, we will look back on the five biggest misses by the Orioles since the year 2000. This will always be open for debate with any fan, but here are my thoughts on who the Orioles, unfortunately, struck out with in years past.

5. Adam Loewen: LHP, 2004, Round 1, Pick 4

(Photo: The Athletic)

Adam Loewen was drafted by the Orioles in 2004, though he decided to play a year at Chipola College before signing a $4.02 million contract with the team that mandated he be in the majors by 2007. Loewen, who stood 6’6″ and weighed in at 220 pounds, had a fastball that hit 95 mph, with a 12-6 curve and secondary pitches that came in as above average. He was even named Baseball America’s top prospect for the year.

He first garnered attention as a member of the Canadian National Team, when he squared up against Team USA in 2006 during the World Baseball Classic. There, he held a lineup featuring future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Derek Lee, and Vernon Wells at bay over 3.2 innings of work.

Loewen would make it to the Bowie Baysox in 2006, where he would have a pretty steady presence there. Over a nine-game stay, eight of those starts, Loewen would pitch 49.2 innings. During those games, Loewen would go 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA and 55 strikeouts.

Loewen would be promoted to Triple- A and go 2-0 in three games with a 1.27 ERA across 21.1 innings. He struck out 11 and only allowed two free passes, while opponents only batted .143 off the young left-hander.

This was all the brass with the front office, and they were ready to unhurl their new weapon. On May 23, 2006, Adam Loewen made his Major League debut against the New York Yankees. He held his own over five innings, allowing four runs (three earned) with four strikeouts and walks each. This was the beginning of what looked like a great beginning to a career.

Over the rest of the season, Loewen went 6-6 over 112.1 innings, with a 5.37 ERA in 19 starts. As a rookie, this seemed like decent stats to start a career. I can see everyone scratching their heads wondering why Loewen is on this list.

Along comes 2007; Loewen seemed to have found some stride as the third pitcher in the rotation. He won two of his first five starts, while walking more than striking out and barely making five innings in each start. It was in his sixth start that his career changed going forward.

When Loewen came out to pitch that day, he would suffer a stress fracture in his left elbow, being sent to rehab to try and work through the problem, only to end up being shelved for the season.

In 2008, Loewen returned in spring training. After coming back from such a long layoff, Loewen walked 19 batters in 16 innings coming out of spring. After reporting pitching with some pain and lack of control, he would hit the disabled list for another two months. Upon his return, it was announced he would pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the season.

By July, Loewen reported pain in his throwing elbow again, to which he was diagnosed once again with a stress fracture. July 19, 2008, it was announced his pitching career was over. After two years, he would end his career with an 8-8 record and a 5.34 ERA.

What makes this tragedy so much worse is the way it ended with the organization and Loewen. After announcing he would become an outfielder, the Orioles and Loewen agreed to an outright release, with him re-signing to go to the minors to work on hitting and fielding after years of appearing on the mound. Loewen, when released, immediately signed with the Blue Jays on a minor league contract.

Loewen would travel around the minors, returning to the majors with the Blue Jays in 2011. To rub salt in the wound, he would hit his first career home run that would lead the Blue Jays to a 6-5 victory over the Orioles. His career would last until 2017, before he signed with the New Britain Bees in 2018.

4. Billy Rowell: SS/3B, 2006, Round 1, Pick 9

(Photo: The Inquirer)

Billy Rowell was everything a team was looking for in a fielder and a hitter. Standing at 6’4″, 200 pounds, with good speed for his size, Rowell had a strong arm and smooth reactions for playing shortstop, with some experience at the hot corner.

Scouts raved about the potential for Rowell to be a middle of the lineup producer. He had plus bat speed, good extension through the ball, and explodes through the pitch. He drives the ball, and he doesn’t get fooled at the plate. With his strength and leverage with natural life in his swing, he should hit many home runs, according to what the scouts were saying. This looked like a perfect marriage; with Camden Yards and the thought of Rowell hitting home runs there, the pick seemed like a match made in heaven.

Rowell signed a $2.1 million contract and was assigned to Bluefield of the Appalachian League. Over the course of 53 games between Appalachian League and New York-Penn Leagues, Rowell would go on to bat .328. His time in the minors led to Baseball America profiling Rowell with this comment:

“Rowell is exactly the kind of impact bat the Orioles desperately need in their big league lineup, so they’ll move him up as soon as he shows he has mastered a level. His bat is good enough that defense is a secondary consideration.”

– Baseball America on Rowell

In 2008, Baltimore assigned Rowell to the Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League. He would go on to bat .279 with 21 doubles and nine long balls as an 18-year-old. Rowell, unfortunately, would also strike out 104 times, with just 31 walks across 91 games, raising some concerns about plate discipline.

Being only 18, Rowell was cut some slack and promoted to the High-A Frederick Keys, where he would remain for the next three years. Many glaring holes started to come through, including a major lack of discipline at the plate and defensive lapses. He would strike out 379 times over 348 games, batting just .250, while hitting just 27 home runs and also committing 64 errors between third and right field.

it wasnt until 2010 that Rowell finally put together a semi-decent year, batting .275 with 11 home runs in 117 games, but his 153 strikeouts were growing more and more of a concern for the Orioles. Rowell just wasn’t getting it together.

The Orioles would give Rowell a crack at Bowie, hoping it might help him out, but that lasted just 41 games. Batting just .227 with no home runs and 11 RBI, Rowell would fail his second drug test and be suspended for 50 games.

This would be the end of Billy Rowell’s time with the Baltimore Orioles organization and his professional career in general.

3. Matt Hobgood: RHP, 2009, Round 1, Pick 5

(Photo: Baseball Wiki)

Hobgood was a surprise pick by the Orioles at No. 5 overall in the draft. Many scouts saw him as a first round talent, but no one expected him to go that high.

Joe Jordan, former Orioles scouting director, admitted he had his eye on the 6’4″, 270-pound right-hander for quite some time. Surprisingly, the Orioles viewed Hobgood as a pitcher, even though across 30 games he batted .475 with 21 home runs, while driving in 55. Many pundits viewed him as a hitter instead of the pitcher the Orioles saw.

Hobgood’s pitching was quietly strong, as he had a 0.92 ERA and an 11-1 record. His fastball toped at 93-95 mph and had life on it. His curveball was considered his best pitch and considered the best of any pitcher in the draft. He had an average slider, but it was his changeup that was considered the sticking point of making him a rotation pitcher or a power bullpen arm.

Hobgood signed rather quickly, hoping to get to work as soon as possible. The problem was that work didn’t seem to agree with him. Across his first three seasons, he pitched 157.2 innings, 94 with the Delmarva Shorebirds, where he was 3-7 with a 4.40 ERA.

For three seasons not rising above A-level ball. Hobgood carried an ERA of 6.54, with a 4-21 record overall. In April of 2012, he would undergo rotator cuff surgery, which would sideline him for the entire season.

It was at this point the Orioles decided that maybe moving to a bullpen position could benefit Hobgood. This seemed to be a good idea, and his stats backed that up, as he would go 9-4 across 33 games, with his ERA at 4.32.

Coming back in 2013, Hobgood would find out what it was like to pitch pain-free for the first time since high school. He was touching 97 mph with his fastball, and for the first time, it looked like he might live up to his billing.

In Single-A ball, he would pitch 63 innings and have a 9-4 record, with a 4.32 ERA working out of the bullpen. There were some control issues, but that was expected after not pitching for a year.

In 2014, Hobgood would once again begin his season in A-ball, this time for the Frederick Keys. After five outings and eight days of rest, he would leave his next game with shoulder tightness, after starting the season 2-1 with a 1.54 ERA over 15.2 innings. Hobgood would struggle to reach the end with complaints of shoulder discomfort, finishing 3-4 with a 4.48 ERA across 29 games.

Once again, the Orioles would give Hobgood one more chance, but with an injury-plagued 2015 season with Double-A Bowie and compiling a 1-1 record with a 6.52 ERA over six games, the writing was on the wall.

In November of 2015, Hobgood was declared a free agent. He also announced that he was done with pitching and would focus on pursuing his career as hitter. As of 2017, he was still a free agent.

2. LJ Hoes: 2B/OF, 2008, Round 3, Pick 81

(Photo: Baltimore Sun)

LJ Hoes was a player, who the Orioles had so much hope in, that they drafted him, traded for him, and signed him as a free agent. The problem was the Orioles’ hopes never panned out into the potential that was hidden in him.

Hoes was drafted by the Orioles in 2008 and signed five days later. Hitting the Gulf Coast League, Hoes immediately showed why the Orioles had drafted a player, who was better known for his bat than his defense. Over the course of a 48-game period, he batted .308 with 49 hits and 38 runs scored. A keen eye at the plate, he also collected 30 walks, and though not a major threat on the base paths, he managed to steal 10 bases as well. This looked like the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Hoes’ 2008 debut was good enough to get him into Low-A with the Delmarva Shorebirds for the 2009 season. He would play 119 games and bat .260, although he would collect 112 hits. He seemed a little bit more free with the bat, as he only walked 23 times all season and struck out 80. Though he did manage to steal 20 bases, his speed game was starting to take shape.

The 2010 season was to be another step forward, but, unfortunately, it started with a step back. Hoes was to start the season in Frederick but came down with mononucleosis, missing seven weeks to start the season. After a brief stint in Aberdeen, Hoes made his way back to Frederick.

The LJ Hoes that started with flash returned to form, playing 97 games and collecting 98 hits along the way. Once again, his plate discipline returned, as he walked 53 times. Batting .278, he also stole 10 bases, though he was caught eight times as well, losing the focus of one of his best traits.

Another concerning trend was Hoes committing 12 errors in 79 games, while playing the field at second base. His batting was enough to get a promotion to Bowie.

The Orioles decided it was fine to switch Hoes to a position where his bat could be beneficial, and his defensive skills wouldn’t become a liability. By moving him to the outfield, his speed could be utilized, and it could keep his bat in the lineup on a regular basis without hurting the team.

If 2011 was to be different, there was a little improvement in his defense, as across 136 games, Hoes committed 12 errors; the problem is that there were five errors in 96 games in the outfield.

The good news is Hoes’ bat still was holding consistent play. Between High-A ball and Bowie, he collected 147 hits and batted .285, as well as stealing 20 bases and collecting 65 walks. Hoes showed a little pop, collecting 34 extra base hits, including a career-high nine home runs.

Hoes’ bat was the draw for everyone. He would go on to bat .282 for his career in the minors, walking 395 times with 918 hits across 879 games. There was potential oozing out of Hoes, but would he ever bring it all together?

Hoes would end up being traded to the Astros after a brief appearance in the majors for the Orioles. Though he had two semi-productive years with the Astros, Hoes would never reach his full potential. He would hold a .953 fielding percentage in right field, where he played most of his games; his bat didn’t transcend like expected.

Hoes would become nothing more than a reserve, playing across 112 games in three seasons. He would strike out three times as much as he walked and scored only 37 runs in those contests.

He returned to the Orioles in 2015 on a cash trade and elected for free agency in 2016. The final straw was a second failed drug test that would result in a 50-game suspension when signed by a new team.

As of 2021, Hoes was coaching high school baseball and had been out of the majors since 2018, when became a free agent on his last minor league deal.

1. Chance Sisco: C, Round 2, Pick 61

(Photo: Eutaw Street Report)

This is more of a story of trying to get every ounce of talent out of a player and getting no response above the minor leagues.

Chance Sisco came into the draft as a former shortstop and pitcher, who converted to a catcher his senior year of high school. The athleticism was there, as was the talent, but Orioles fans would find out that looks could be more deceiving than ever thought before.

In 2013, Sisco debuted in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, where he looked destined for stardom, batting .371 across 31 games, collecting 37 hits. He had six extra base hits and collected 11 RBI, while walking 17 times and striking out in 21 times. This second round pick was out-performing expectations, and once he improved his defense, could become a full-time big league catcher.

“The Sisco Kid” would start 2014 in Single-A Delmarva with the Shorebirds. Once again, he was making the Orioles’ brass look like they knew what they were doing. Across 114 games, he collected 146 hits and 42 walks. He added 63 RBI and collected 34 extra base hits, while batting .340.

The offense was there, but the defense is where the cracks showed. He would commit six errors, have 16 passed balls, and barely threw out 25% of would be base stealers. This was a trend that would carry through his minor league career, with thoughts of possibly being moved to first base to keep his bat in the lineup.

Sisco would bat .299 for his career in the minors, showing a flare for hitting and patience at the plate, collecting 247 walks. Baltimore figured, with time, they could get Sisco to improve his defense in the minors, before making him their starting catcher.

Unfortunately, over a three-year stretch, “The Sisco Kid” would average nine errors, a .986 fielding percentage, and would throw out 26% of would be base stealers. These are stats that Baltimore thought would improve over time.

During his 10-game stint in the big leagues in 2017, Sisco would bat .333 with six hits, four being for extra bases, including two home runs. It looked like the Orioles finally had a back stop duo that would be dangerous on both sides of the plate.

This would be Sisco’s best showing, as he never batted above .214 the next three seasons. His career-high in games came in 2018, when he played 63 games, but he couldn’t pull it together offensively or defensively. Some critics saw Sisco as a player who hit the majors, then just stopped trying.

He would spend his time shuttling back and forth to the minors until 2021, when he was finally being waived after 21 games. He ended his Orioles career with a .200 batting average, 16 home runs, and a miniscule .662 OPS.

He was picked up by the Mets and recently made his debut on August 18. Needles to say, the promise never lived up to the draft expectations.

Honorable Mentions:

Heston Kjerstad: OF, 2020, Round 1, Pick 2

(Subject to change)

Currently, Kjerstad has yet to play a game professionally, since developing a virus that has brought on myocarditis.

He was drafted for his bat and was ranked as the seventh best prospect coming out of the draft. The talent is there, but until we can see any action, this has to go down as a current, and possible future, top five draft bust.

Josh Hart: OF, 2013, Round 1, Pick 37

Josh Hart was described as a top of the order batter with top speed. Expected to be a good and reliable bat for the Orioles, he never made it past Single-A ball.

Injuries would derail his career, as he only played in 366 games over five seasons. A career .243 hitter, Hart would strike out 343 times and only swipe 69% of his stolen base attempts. A .290 OBP didn’t help his cause either, as he was released by the Orioles in 2017.

Xavier Avery OF, 2008, Round 2, Pick 50

This former speedster was considered a leadoff-type hitter with exceptional speed.

Shooting through the Orioles farm system, Avery made his Major League debut on May 13, 2012. His career would last a total of 32 games, batting .223 with only six stolen bases.

Avery was traded to the Mariners for Michael Morse in 2013. He played for six more teams, including a second stint with the Orioles. As of 2018, he is still considered a free agent.

Unfortunately, draft picks are always a gamble, and expectations usually are high. For every Mike Trout, you find a Todd Van Popple; you never know how it will end up years later.

Who is the top Orioles draft bust in your opinion? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Facebook and Twitter and our podcast “The Walk-Off” on YouTube and Spotify! And, make sure to use the hashtag #thebaltimorebattery when sharing our content to show your Birdland swag!

Like Stephen’s content? Follow him on Twitter, @SrHeckman!

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