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Orioles prospect season in review: Zac Lowther

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Zac Lowther had a heck of a 2018, dominating both low-A and high-A on his way to winning the Orioles minor league pitcher of the year award.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles have a number of intriguing young pitchers in their minor league system, but Zac Lowther is probably my favorite of all. He’s a lefty, and I like lefties. Also he wears glasses and I love baseball players in glasses. Is this a silly reason to like one prospect over another? Probably. But don’t worry, there are other good reasons to be a Zac Lowther fan.

Lowther was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft as part of the competitive balance round, 74th overall. He was the third pick by the Orioles after D.L. Hall (21st) and Adam Hall (60th). After being drafted he appeared in 12 games for the short-season Aberdeen Ironbirds, putting up a 1.66 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 54.1 innings.

Clearly ready for a bigger challenge, Lowther started 2018 with the low-A Delmarva Shorebirds and proved quickly that the Sally League was no match for him either. After just six starts, in which Lowther gave up only four earned runs in 31 innings, the Orioles moved him up to the high-A Frederick Keys, where he remained for the rest of the season.

Success continued at Frederick, where Lowther made pitched 92.2 innings with an ERA of 2.53 and FIP of 3.01. His walks per nine (2.5) and and home runs per nine (0.6) stayed almost identical to his numbers in Delmarva, but his strikeout rate dropped a bit as the higher level hitters were able to make better contact with his pitches.

That’s not to say that the hitters in high-A hit him well, because they didn’t. He held those batters to a hitting line of .220/.282/.318. Lefties hit just .190.

Lowther was striking out a whopping 12.4 batters per nine innings at Delmarva, and that number dropped to 9.7 over his 17 games (16 starts) with the Keys. Striking out almost 10 guys every nine innings is nothing to sneeze at, but as a lefty with a fastball that hovers around 90 miles per hour, it’s worth keeping an eye on as Lowther continues to move up in the system.

In August, FanGraphs had a story on Lowther and how he is able to miss so many bats even with a lower velocity fastball. The full article is worth your time, but according to author David Laurila, Lowther “has above-average spin, which helps his low-90s fastball play up even more.” And from the man himself:

“I’m very quick with my arm,” explained [Lowther]. “My angle is low three-quarters, and the way my arm comes through… it’s a whippy motion. There’s a lot of external torque going back, and then I also have good extension, a really long stride. My arm gets way out in front of my body, and I release it from there.”

If you want to read more about Lowther’s ability to miss bats and the analytics that the Orioles used to determine he was their guy, Jon Meoli wrote a good story about it back in June.

Lowther is currently ranked as the 18th best prospect in the Orioles’ system by MLB Pipeline though he was ranked 14th before the influx of talent at the trade deadline. Maybe because I’m more familiar with him than the new guys, but he feels like he should be a higher ranked prospect to me. He’ll probably just break my heart (they usually do) but I have a lot of optimism when it comes to Zac Lowther.

Time will tell if he can keep up his success in the future, but there is no denying that he had an outstanding season. Along with Keegan Akin, he was awarded the Orioles Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. He will surely start 2019 with the Bowie Baysox; there is nothing left for him to prove with the Keys.

Will we see him in Baltimore in 2019? There are other players ahead of him in the pipeline including ones who, unlike him, need to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from the rule five draft. So it’s hard to say when he might get his chance. But I know I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do in double-A next year.