To everyone who viewed Sunday’s callup of Orioles pitching prospect Zac Lowther as a sign of better things to come, I have some bad news. Lowther’s MLB stay is a brief one for now, as the Orioles have already sent him back down to the alternate training site in Bowie. In his place, the Orioles have selected the contract of reliever Jay Flaa.
Unless you have a probably unhealthy familiarity with obscure Orioles minor leaguers, this news is likely the first time you have ever contemplated the existence of Flaa. He is a 28-year-old right-handed pitcher who was drafted by the Orioles in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. The most memorable fact about him before now is that he is from North Dakota State University. He is set to wear #77 as an Oriole. a number last worn in 2005 by Eli Whiteside.
Flaa turned 23 on the final day of that year’s draft, the day after he was selected by the O’s. That means he was already older than even the typical college player picked in his draft class. According to Baseball Reference’s database of signing bonuses, this netted Flaa a “senior sign” bonus of only $10,000.
Not very many of those guys end up in the bigs for even one day. This is even more true because you can look at Flaa’s minor league stats and you’re not going to find a player who has clearly always been on a smooth path to MLB. He had a successful 2018 in Double-A as a 26-year-old, and when the Elias era Orioles promoted him to Norfolk in 2019, things did not go very well.
It’s hard to say how long Flaa’s stay will be. He’s on the 40-man roster now, taking the space that opened up when the Orioles designated Wade LeBlanc for assignment, so he could be ticketed for the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle (currently doing business as the Bowie-Baltimore shuttle) when Dean Kremer returns from his expected 10-day minor league stay. Or he could find himself just as swiftly DFA’d even though he now has minor league options after serving as a sacrificial lamb during a game in this coming series against the Yankees.
Or maybe Mike Elias and company have found something they like in this random holdover from the Dan Duquette era that they feel like they unlocked. The presence of Cole Sulser and César Valdez shows they’re not afraid to stock the bullpen with older guys. Flaa did appear in a couple of MLB spring training games during camp this year and the O’s seem to have kept their eyes on him at the alternate training site as well.
This has got to be a nice message sent to all of the guys who are grinding in the Orioles minors whose chances of the big leagues are slim. If you listen to what they’re telling you and they like the results, you can still be a big leaguer six years after you were a senior sign.
For now, the Bowie site is where Lowther is returning. I had hoped he might be up for good, perhaps soon to transition into the starting rotation, but it seems the Orioles are not ready to make that move for him yet. If that’s the case, then it probably is for the best to get him back to the alternate site, and eventually to the Triple-A rotation, so he can continue building up for starter’s innings rather than having to cool his heels until needed in the MLB bullpen. At least his family got to be there to see his debut on Sunday.