In a wide-ranging telephone interview Wednesday, Billy Rowell discussed his 2011 season, said he felt the Orioles failed to live up to their word to bring him back to Double-A Bowie after a midseason injury and said he had no interest in being converted to a pitcher.
Rowell also admitted he turned down an assignment to short-season Single-A Aberdeen, said his power potential is still strong and said he expects to remain in the O’s organization.
Rowell was the Orioles’ first-round draft pick out of a New Jersey high school in 2006. After showing some power potential early in his career, Rowell struggled for three seasons in Single-A Frederick from 2008-2010 and hit just .227 this year with Bowie.
His career has not progressed and this year he got just 119 Bowie at-bats until he suffered an ankle injury in late June and went on the disabled list.
“It is not a year I wanted to have,” Rowell said. “You always want to dominate every league you come up to and it didn’t happen. The season didn’t go as planned. But, I liked Bowie. Different scenary for a change. I had a nice host family there.”
Rowell was sent to Florida to rehab his injured ankle and he played 17 games in July in the Gulf Coast League. He didn’t play for any O’s affiliate after July 30 and Rowell criticizes the Orioles for that, saying the club reneged on its word to get him back to Bowie.
I asked him if he thought he had been given a fair chance to show what he could do with Bowie.
“Not really,” he said. “I was supposed to go to Florida for two weeks according to (director of player development) John Stockstill. Two weeks in Florida and then come back to Bowie. That was the plan. I was good (healthy) after two weeks, then they brought up the guy they traded for Derrek Lee - what’s his name, Baker?
“They bring him up and he gets dominated in Double-A. The game was way too fast for him. You know what I mean? They bring him up so it looks like the Derrek Lee trade was a good trade and they diss the guy they gave $2 million to. It’s cool, it’s their business. But I don’t feel like it was carried out in the right manner.
“If I gave anyone $2 million, I would give them the highest resources possibly available and the most knowledge possibly available.”
He remained in Florida into August and, in fact, Rowell is still there taking part in workouts in Sarasota at Twin Lakes Park.
“I was here in Florida for two weeks and talked to Brian Roberts,” Rowell said. “I’ve learned more just from talking to a current Major League Baseball player about a simple hitting thing and I picked up things from him. You know why? Because knowledge is everything in this game.
“I’m 23 now. It’s not like it’s too late, but I need a dominant season next year. Anyone that wants to give me a chance to play a full season at first or third. Whatever they’ve got in the cards. I work for (the Orioles).”
It should be pointed out that when Aaron Baker was acquired, he went to Single-A Frederick and he didn’t play with Bowie until Aug. 14. But Rowell believes his not getting back to Bowie was tied to Baker’s time there.
“There is a reason why people do things,” Rowell said. “Everyone has a motive on a certain move. The motive was the Derrek Lee trade. They moved him up to make the trade look good and he got blown away.”
The Orioles don’t seem to want to get into a game of he-said, he-said with Rowell.
“In the year and a half I have been in my current position, Billy has worked very hard to try and progress,” Stockstill said. But he did not address any of Rowell’s comments beyond that.
Some minor league sources told me this summer that they heard Rowell could have come north after his time with the GCL club to play with either Single-A Delmarva, Frederick or Aberdeen, but he chose not to.
“Yeah, I could play in Aberdeen,” Rowell said. “The kid got hit in the face with a ball. OK, I’ll play in Aberdeen at first base. I said, ‘No, thanks.’ The plan was to go up to Bowie. Everybody was struggling on that team. I didn’t hit for the power, I understand. But maybe it would have clicked. You don’t know.
“I wasn’t hitting any doubles or homers. But it could have clicked for me. I thought it was two weeks (in Florida) and get back healthy and get going. It just didn’t happen for me.”
I mentioned to Rowell that after several years without putting up big numbers, he must have expected at some point that his chances would begin to dwindle or end altogether with this organization.
“But this is the deal with me: I just don’t want to be another (expletive) player in the system. If I can’t be dominant, I don’t want to play. It’s that simple,” he said.
Rowell said he thought he could be a minor league free agent at the end of this year, but that is not the case. If he plays next year, barring a trade, it will have to be for the Orioles.
With these comments though, does he feel like there is a chance he has played his last game in the organization?
“Is there a good chance (I’m done with Baltimore)? No. I still think they want to make sure they can salvage their investment, if they were smart. If not, that’s cool. I would salvage that investment though,” he said.
“If you watch my batting practice, it’s not like the power is gone. The power has increased since I started in the minors. It just hasn’t translated into the game. It’s not like the tools are not there.
“I don’t know. See what happens. Things will work out.”
Rowell said he wants to play winter ball to get some at-bats there and try to come back strong next spring training.
There was a rumor going around late in the year that the Orioles have approached Rowell about trying to become a pitcher. No one has confirmed that on the record, but Rowell said he’s just not interested in that at all.
“No. I hate pitching. I don’t like pitching at all. I would be mentally in pain pitching. I like to play every day,” he said.
Rowell sums it up this way: He still feels he’s an everyday player and wants to be one for an O’s farm club. We’ll see if he is given that shot.
“I can play winter ball. Get some at-bats there and come back in spring training and have a good spring training,” Rowell said.
“I know, the proof is in the numbers. If they don’t want to give me another year, I understand. I don’t want that bull where I play once a week. If you don’t want to use me every day, then maybe it’s not in the cards.”