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Orioles prospect season in review: Zac Lowther

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Bowie’s ace had a huge year, and he could get a look with the Orioles as early as next season.

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

For Bowie’s Zachary William Lowther, it was a huge 2019—and this wasn’t even the season he shared Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors with Keegan Akin. That’d be 2018, when Lowther put up a sparkling 2.18 ERA to go with an 8-4 record while splitting the season between Delmarva and Frederick.

Would Lowther’s stuff hold up at the higher levels? Well, I’m glad you asked. In a full 2019 season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox, the 6’2, 235-lb. lefty pitched to a 13-7 record with a 2.55 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and 154 strikeouts in 148 innings. Not to mention a postseason record of 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA, on the strength of one start against the Harrisburg Senators in which he went 6.1 innings and only allowed one run. Lowther took Pitcher of the Week honors in May, was named to the Eastern League 2019 All-Star team in June, and was honored again in September as a member of the end of year All-Star team.

Before getting picked up by the Orioles in 2017 in Round Two (74th overall), Lowther played three seasons of college ball in the Big East Conference for D1 Xavier University. Lowther racked up a 12-2 career record with a 0.71 ERA as a Musketeer, and in 2017, he set a school single-season record with 123 strikeouts, also earning a spot on the All-Big East Conference team.

As a member of the Orioles farm system, Lowther has had one of those enviable, drama-free rises through the ranks: a smooth short season for Aberdeen in 2017 where he put up a 1.66 ERA and 75 strikeouts in eleven starts; a dominant 2018 split between Delmarva and Frederick; and a successful 2019 campaign. He had to miss a postseason start in September when he was benched for “general soreness,” but Bowie manager Buck Britton deemed Lowther’s brief trip to the IL a mostly precautionary move aimed at protecting the lefty down the road.

The 23-year-old Lowther’s stuff isn’t overpowering, but it is effective. His fastball ranges from 89-92 mph, the curveball from 80-83, and the changeup 86-87. Lowther commands all of his pitches, especially the fastball, which he can locate to all parts of the plate, and people who have seen him pitch often describe him as fearless. He says he’s learned to get guys out in “any way possible.”

Lowther’s MLB prospect report lauds his physical maturity, his ability to take on a heavy workload, and his record of “pil[ing] up strikeouts” since joining professional ball:

Lowther’s track record of missing bats is testament to his dominant fastball. He throws the pitch with only fringy velocity, sitting at 87-91 mph and occasionally bumping a few ticks higher. However, the massive extension he generates to the plate, combined with his fast arm and slightly lower slot, gives the pitch a high spin rate and late riding life that enables him to consistently beat hitters within and above the strike zone. An above-average curveball and a tumbling, low-80s changeup that’s at least average comprise Lowther’s secondary arsenal, and he keeps hitters off balance with both pitches.

Dan Connolly describes Lowther as “the most consistently excellent member of the promising, minor-league starting cadre,” and his anonymous scout (whose thoughts on Cody Sedlock some of you were ready to take or to leave) says he’s a “big fan”:

His pitchability plays better than his stuff. He has deception, a really good feel for sequencing. He has no fear at all when you watch him. I think one of the biggest problems in baseball now is that too many pitchers pitch scared. He’s not scared. He’s a real thick, strong-body guy. He reminds me a little bit, and he looks like him a bit, of Vance Worley. Similar-type body and I think the same good feel for pitching. Worley came into the big leagues and was pretty damn good for a few years before he hurt his arm.”

MLB Pipeline and Connolly both see Lowther, the Orioles’ No. 10 prospect, as a solid back-end starter whose great “feel” for pitching might allow him to surpass that floor. This sounds right. If people have doubted Lowther’s stuff, it’s hard to quibble with the results.

Bowie pitching has been one of the biggest stories out of the Orioles farm system this season, and Lowther (along with his good friends Michael Baumann and Alex Wells) has played a huge part in the rotation’s success. While five teams in the Eastern League finished with an equal or better record than the Baysox, Bowie’s team ERA and WHIP were a league-best 3.18 and 1.18, respectively. Meanwhile, staff ace Lowther topped the Eastern League with thirteen wins, his 2.55 ERA second-best among all qualifying pitchers, and he racked up a league-best 154 strikeouts. (Here he is notching a season-high tenth strikeout against Trenton on August 6—look at the location of that fastball!)

In a year where the major league team came up short in a lot of categories, Orioles fans starved for good news could at least enjoy an excess of riches in the minors. Two affiliates made it to the playoffs (and the GCL Orioles would have made it, too, had weather not forced a cancellation), while three skippers in the organization won Manager of the Year honors (Britton (Bowie), Kyle Moore (Delmarva), and Alan Mills (GCL Orioles)). Zac Lowther’s 2019 season—and Bowie pitching generally—was definitely another of those feel-good developments. It’s likely we’ll see the 23-year-old starting next season for the Norfolk Tides, and if his stuff plays at the Triple-A level the way it consistently has so far, a major league call-up could be not far behind.