This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
NOTE: On 6/15/22, the Orioles designated Lowther for assignment. He is no longer on the 40-man roster.
Last year was a milestone for young left-hander Zac Lowther because it marked his major league debut. Taken by the O’s in the 2nd round of the 2017 Draft out of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Lowther worked his way through the minors over the previous handful of years. And even though he didn’t make the club out of spring training in 2021, Lowther didn’t have to wait long to be promoted.
His indoctrination came on April 25 at Camden Yards against the Athletics. The O’s were ahead 8-1, and manager Brandon Hyde brought Lowther in for the ninth inning. The lefty allowed a leadoff single, but recovered to retire the next three batters in a row on a flyball, a soft groundout, and a strikeout. Of his 18 pitches thrown, 12 were strikes.
Lowther would go on to be optioned and recalled a great number of times over the course of 2021; too many times to count, frankly. And after all that shuffling, Lowther emerged at the end of the year with a 6.67 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 29.2 innings with the O’s.
The first thing you notice when Lowther is on the mound is his size. He’s a big dude, checking in at 6’ 2” and 235 lbs. Not to mention, he sports a full beard and glasses, which adds to his intimidating yet intelligent look.
The left-hander employs a four-pitch mix consisting of a four-seamer, changeup, slider, and curve. Without overpowering stuff — his fastball topped out around 90 mph last year according to Statcast — Lowther’s success is highly dependent on control.
With all his traveling to and from Baltimore last season, Lowther got into 10 total games with the Birds, including six starts and four appearances out of the bullpen. As reliever, he put up a 4.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 4.00 K/BB in six innings, including two games finished. Things were even more difficult for him as a member of the rotation. In six games started, Lowther had a 7.23 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, and 2.00 K/BB.
It was a far cry from Lowther’s early career, when he basically breezed through college and the minors. In 72 career minor league games, including 69 starts, Lowther has a 2.61 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, and 10.5 SO/9. Prior to that, Lowther’s three-year collegiate career included 36 starts and 12 relief appearances in which he threw a total of 237.2 innings with a 3.18 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, and 9.4 SO/9.
Back in 2021, Lowther was ranked the Orioles’ 22nd best prospect — wedged between outfielder Reed Trimble and shortstop Darell Hernaiz — according to MLB Pipeline, which described the young lefty’s pitch arsenal as follows:
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. He pairs it with an above-average spike curve and serviceable changeup, and has worked to incorporate a slider into his arsenal.
Lowther is currently 25 years old, and he’ll turn 26 on April 30. Plus, he’s very controllable, considering that his first year of arbitration eligibility is 2025, and the earliest he can reach free agency is 2028.
For the young left-hander to take a leap forward, he’s got some work ahead of him. He’s got to stick around Baltimore all season — or at least the majority of it — and try to eat up some innings at the back end of the rotation. That’s a tall order, considering how much this team likes to use the Norfolk shuttle. A successful season for Lowther could also come in a bullpen role, as long as he carves out a niche and performs well consistently.
He must also vastly improve upon last year’s numbers, like shaving at least a couple runs off his previous ERA of 6.67, and allowing fewer baserunners.
There’s also a problem with the long ball. In his brief time in the bigs, Lowther is allowing 1.8 HR/9, more than three times what he averaged in the minors and college. Maybe the expanded dimensions in left field at Camden Yards will help. But in order to succeed, Lowther’s also got to keep doing what got him here, which is racking up the strikeouts.
The Orioles have plenty of young pitchers in the system, and on the cusp of the majors, so Lowther is facing stiff competition for playing time in the majors again this year. His performance in 2021 left a lot to be desired, and there’s concern that his stuff won’t play well in the bigs, especially if he’s got spotty control. Sure, he’ll spend a chunk of time with the Birds this year, but not the entire season. For all of these reasons, I do not see Lowther on the big league roster at year’s end. I expect him to be a member of the Tides — still working to perfect his game — when this baseball season is over.
Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Ryan McKenna, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Jorge López, Ramón Urías, Dillon Tate, Paul Fry
Tomorrow: Alexander Wells