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06/06/06 9:35 PM ET

Orioles select Rowell as top pick

High-school infielder expected to play third base

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles didn't look for any surprises in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday, opting for power-hitting prep infielder Billy Rowell, a player who has been linked to them in nearly every publication over the last few weeks. Rowell, who played shortstop in high school, is expected to play third base in the pro ranks.

"We really liked him. He was a targeted guy," said Mike Flanagan, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations. "Some of the older pitchers -- a couple of the college pitchers -- we weren't exactly sure where they were going to fall. Rowell was always a guy, that if he was going to be there, we were going to take him."

Joe Jordan, Baltimore's scouting director, nearly offered up a juicy iconic comparison. Jordan seemed to be leaning toward a Cal Ripken comment before backing off, adding, "I don't want to answer that right now, until I get him signed."

"We could send him out as a shortstop, but if we feel like he's going to end up long-term at third base, we may as well get him going there," he said, getting back to Rowell. "He's a hitter first. This is a kid with tremendous raw power, but he's a hitter first.

"That's what we try to look for, because they're going to get to their power if they can hit."

Rowell is the first high-school infielder to be taken with Baltimore's first-round pick since 1978, when the Orioles selected Robert Bruce. This time, they made their pick despite unusually strong depth in the big-league infield. Shortstop Miguel Tejada has three more years on his contract, and third baseman Melvin Mora just signed a three-year extension.

That's completely consistent with the organization's philosophy. The Orioles insisted before the draft that they'd go for the highest-rated player on their draft board, regardless of position.

"We've got some infielders there," said Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. "They know what they're doing. There comes a point in time when, no matter who's available or what you're needing, sometimes you've got to take the best player out there."

That theory was nearly tested when Andrew Miller, the consensus top pick in the draft, slid to Detroit at No. 6. Jordan said the O's had Miller rated high, but he also said Baltimore got the player it wanted.

"We had nine names at the top of our board, and they came off -- not necessarily in the order we had them, but the same nine names. That's where he fit," Jordan said. "He had a lot of interest in the Orioles, and ability-wise, we've been on him all year. It's been a crazy, crazy first round, because we didn't know who was going [first] until an hour ago, or maybe 30 minutes ago.

"We'd been on him all along -- ever since last June."

Like nearly every other scout who has seen Rowell, Jordan said the infielder has legitimate middle-of-the-lineup power. Even before his senior year had started, the left-handed hitter set the school record at Bishop Eustace Prep for career home runs, and he came back to bat .557 with six home runs and a .660 on-base percentage.

Rowell wasn't available for comment Tuesday because he was attending his graduation ceremony, but plenty of people in the organization spoke up on his behalf.

"It's easy power. It's aggressive power," said Flanagan. "He's a good-sized man already -- 6-foot-5, 205 [pounds] -- with a short swing. ... He has a lot working for him at an early age. I don't think he turns 18 until September. I'd like to get him in the system and get him going. We think a projection of two or three years and he'll be ready."

"I saw our No. 1 pick in a workout," added Perlozzo. "Big kid, left-handed hitter, good power. Seventeen years old and can reach the seats easily. Seems like a pretty good player."

Jordan also said he expected Rowell to sign quickly and play with Bluefield, the team's short-season affiliate in the Class A Appalachian League.

"We're in good shape," he said. "We expect him to be out very soon. We're pretty comfortable with that."

"It's always a part of it," said Flanagan, speaking about signability. "That's the way you put the board together. There's some high school players who you know if they don't go by a certain round, they're probably not going to sign. There's a lot of decision-making put into the signability aspect of it."

Two of the Orioles' last four first-round draft picks -- Adam Loewen and Nick Markakis -- are on the parent club's current roster. One other, Wade Townsend, didn't sign with Baltimore and wound up as a first-round selection of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays the next year. Last year's pick, Brandon Snyder, is playing for Delmarva in the Class A South Atlantic League.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.