The Orioles selected Kyle Stowers 71st overall with their competitive balance pick between the second and third rounds of the 2019 draft. The Stanford outfielder came out of the draft lauded for his big-time power potential from the left side of the plate, although there was serious concern about his ability to make contact.
FanGraphs’s Eric Longenhagen seems to have been the highest on Stowers of any of the major national scouting outlets. His pre-draft list of the best eligible prospects ranked Stowers 32nd, essentially a late-first or early-second round pick. Instead, the O’s nabbed him an entire round later.
Longenhagen’s scouting report boiled down to this:
“Stowers has a powerful cut and big raw power, but can be too aggressive at times, undermining the prototypical everyday right field tools.”
The folks at MLB Pipeline were not as enticed by the Stowers power, placing him 78th overall on their board. However, they did reference the fact that he has already had success with a wood bat, ranking fifth in the Cape Cod League with a .326 batting average. Their notes:
Stowers’ power is legitimate, with the ability to drive the ball to all fields with good bat speed...A solid athlete who runs well enough, Stowers has largely stuck to the outfield corners in college though he was seeing time in center field this spring, with most seeing left field as his likely long-term home.
Stowers signed with the Orioles on June 20, 2019 for full slot value at $884,200. He then reported to short-season Aberdeen for his first taste of professional action.
He appeared in 55 games for the IronBirds, splitting his time between all three outfield positions (161.1 innings in left field, 88 in center, 168 in right), but struggled at the plate.
His .216/.289/.377 batting line is not great. Stowers hit six home runs and doubled 13 times, and ended with a wRC+ of 102. He also struck out 53 times while walking on 20 occasions. But he had also just finished a full season with Stanford and may have been pushing his body to the max that year.
Fast-forward to present day. The Orioles have since added an entire additional draft class as well as a significant batch of international signings. Meanwhile, Stowers is more than a year removed from the last time he played in a regular season game of baseball, although the O’s did involve Stowers in their developmental camp back in October, so you can take a look at what his Cody Bellinger-esque swing is looking like these days.
FanGraphs still holds the big swinger in high regard, placing him as the 12th-best prospect in the Orioles system. They updated their evaluation to include notes on him falling more in the draft than expected and his struggles in Aberdeen:
The Bellingerian cut makes Stowers’ whiffs seem worse than they are, and also makes his dingers very aesthetically pleasing. He can be beaten at the letters and by back foot breaking balls, but otherwise is capable of doing damage all over the zone. I liked him as a sandwich/early second round prospect and he ended up falling all the way to the top of round three. That prompted a reevaluation, as did Stowers’ rough post-draft summer, but ultimately there’s rare ability to rotate here and a chance for big, in-game power production, enough to at least be the larger half of a corner platoon in the Seth Smith/Matt Joyce mold if not as a regular.
One of the tools that really stands out on the FanGraphs report is 55-grade raw power that he is yet to really tap into as a professional. That is commonly the last tool developed, and it’s possible that the now-23-year-old Stowers could have spent the last year bulking up and is due for a power surge this summer.
MLB Pipeline, on the other hand, is still hedging their bets on Stowers. They have him down as the club’s 25th-best youngster, citing poor performances in 2019. They also repeatedly refer to him as a future left fielder rather than right fielder, where FanGraphs thinks he can play. Pipeline’s updated notes:
The Orioles are confident Stowers’ numbers at Aberdeen don’t reflect the quality of contact he made, citing consistently strong exit velocity readings and bad batted-ball luck. Stowers’ loudest tool is his plus-raw power, which translates better to the pull side of his left-handed swing. He generates it with good bat speed, though there is some length to his path that creates some swing-and-miss issues at times.
Stowers is an average runner with a decent arm who projects best as a bat-first corner outfielder. The likeliest landing spot is left field, especially if he can develop the type of all-fields approach he’ll need to hold his own against left-handed pitching.
The “bad batted-ball luck” point is fair enough. Stowers had a .259 BABIP during his 55-game stint in Aberdeen. If he could get that closer to .300, then his overall numbers would look better. But his 23.2% strikeout rate is still a concern unless he does translate that raw power to games, making the K’s easier to swallow.
Given that it has been more than a year since Stowers put up those numbers in Aberdeen, the Orioles may feel he has made enough progress to...return to Aberdeen? The IronBirds are the O’s high-A affiliate now, so the outfielder could find himself back in familiar surroundings come May, skipping over low-A Delmarva entirely.
MLB Pipeline has Stowers’s estimated MLB arrival time as sometime in 2023. That seems right for a former college hitter despite the lost 2020 season. If he can pop a few more home runs and get a bit luckier with balls in play, maybe he makes it to Baltimore just a tad earlier.