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Orioles 2021 prospect preview: Zac Lowther

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The southpaw is nearly major league ready and expects to make his way to Baltimore sometime this summer.

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

Zac Lowther has had a nearly flawless run through the Orioles minor league system since being selected 74th overall out of Xavier in the 2017 MLB Draft. The lefty is yet to have an ERA over 2.55 at any level and was on track to debut in Baltimore sometime late in 2020. That, of course, didn’t happen, and instead he should get his first sip of big league coffee in the upcoming summer.

The left-handed hurler checks in as the Orioles 11th-best prospect on MLB Pipeline’s list, 12th according to The Athletic’s Keith Law, and down at 18th over on FanGraphs. Lowther has been in the Baltimore system for long enough that you probably know everything about him, but let’s recap.

Lowther is known for his wonky delivery that does not look particularly outlandish but causes nightmares for opposing hitters anyway. It disrupts timing and allows Lowther to rack up strikeouts despite an underwhelming pitch repertoire.

From Pipeline:

Lowther doesn’t have dominant pure stuff, instead relying on a combination of deception and his signature heater, which only regularly registers between 87-91 mph but can click slightly higher at times. What it does do is play up due to Lowther’s low release point and big extension, which gives the heater an “invisible” element he uses to get swings and misses both in and above the strike zone.

The deception is no exaggeration. Over 326 total minor league innings, Lowther has struck out 380 batters. This is a continuation from how he handled batters in college, when he set a Xavier school record with 115 strikeouts in his final season and was third in Division I with 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings that same year.

Of course, one good offering does not make for an effective starting pitcher. He also possesses a good changeup and useable curveball while he works on adding a slider.

FanGraphs’s Eric Longenhagen weighed in on Lowther’s pitch mix:

The sinking and tailing action on his heater makes it tough to square up, and the southpaw leans on his secondary stuff to finish hitters. His curveball has depth and it bites hard, but doesn’t pair very well with the sinker and is best deployed as a means to get ahead of hitters early in the count. The changeup, which has weird, floating/tailing action but almost no sink, has become Lowther’s out pitch.

There is no reliable public source of Baseball Savant-like data on minor league players just yet, but if there were, Lowther would get favorable marks on spin rate for his pitches. This is likely what allows them to play above what their velocity would indicate. Law said as much in his brief report on the pitcher.

Lowther works in the upper 80s but gets huge extension in his delivery that provides him with ridiculous deception and high spin rates on his fastball and breaking ball. So far he’s been able to get guys out with stuff that might have graded out as fringy or below average just five years ago.

In general, Lowther gets the most out of his physical ability. His velocity is below average, but it plays up do to unique mechanics and acceptable command. On top of that, he has enough competitive offerings to keep hitters off balance.

So, what does the future look like for Lowther? Well, it depends on who you ask.

FanGraphs views Lowther has a swingman type or a multi-inning relief pitcher. Pipeline refers to him as a “durable back-end rotation” with a chance to be a bit better. And Law believes he should be a “successful back-end starter.” It’s not a consensus, but it’s close.

We should get to find out sometime soon whether or not Lowther can live up to or surpass those projections. The Orioles added him to their 40-man roster back in November in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Then, they had him toss four innings this past spring, which was the most action he had ever seen in big league camp.

For now, he will spend his time at the team’s alternate site in Bowie, a place at which he should feel quite comfortable at this point. Lowther was involved in the 2020 alternate camp as well, and his last full season of minor league baseball was 2019 with the Baysox. It’s safe to say that he knows all of the best spots around Prince George’s Stadium.

It’s a race to see which of the O’s promising young starters is the first to debut for the big league squad this season. Lowther is in the mix, and he might be the most likely option given his consistency. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence.

“I feel like I’m there,” Lowther said. “The only thing that’s stopping me right now is not being on the roster, just being able to go out there and compete with those guys and practice with them every day.

(h/t BaltimoreBaseball.com)

The Orioles want their current starting rotation to give them a bit more time before they start calling up the younger arms. But it won’t last all summer, and before long we should be seeing Lowther on the mound at Camden Yards.