The parade of intriguing prospects onto the Orioles active roster is likely to continue this week with the expected major league debut of outfielder Kyle Stowers. He was added to the taxi squad in Kansas City over the weekend, and will head north of the border with the team as they start a road series against the Blue Jays on Monday.
It would seem that the immediate cause of Stowers’ promotion is the vaccination restriction that comes with playing a game in Toronto this season. It is rumored that fellow outfielder Anthony Santander is unvaccinated against COVID-19. He had declined to say one way or another when he was placed on the COVID IL last year. Stowers will, presumably, take up Santander’s role.
But if we have learned anything about the Orioles this year, it is that they do not promote a prospect simply because there is a hole on the major league roster. So you can be sure that Stowers is ready for this opportunity.
The numbers bear that out. Stowers was named co-Player of the Year in the Orioles organization in 2021, alongside Adley Rutschman. He led their farm system with 27 total home runs across three levels, and capped things with a solid month-long stay in Triple-A. The lefty returned to Norfolk to begin this season and picked up right where he left off, recording a .901 OPS with 12 home runs over 49 games.
In fact, the Stanford product has seemingly improved at one aspect of his game that worried some onlookers. His strikeout rate has been trimmed dramatically from 34.4% during his 22-game stint in Norfolk last season down to 25.4% so far this season. All the while he has maintained his power (.545 slugging percentage) and still has a nice 12% walk rate. It is a “three true outcomes” type of approach, although not as drastic in any direction as someone like Joey Gallo.
Stowers pairs his intriguing bat with a defensive background that has seen him spend significant time in all three outfield spots during his minor league trek. Scouts view him as a corner option most days, but there is enough athleticism for center field in a pinch.
If Stowers does get the call as expected, it should be to take on a starter’s workload, at least for the week. It wouldn’t make much sense to pull him away from available at-bats in Norfolk in order to ride the pine in Toronto.
It is possible that any type of promotion for Stowers would be short-lived, however, as the Orioles return home this weekend, and Santander is having himself a fine season (117 OPS+). There is little reason to switch up the team’s outfield rotation at the moment. But that could change later this summer.
A trade of Santander this season is very much on the table. The 27-year-old has two years of team control remaining and has established himself as a solid major league hitter. That is the type of player that could fetch an intriguing return on the trade market, and if the Orioles feel that Stowers is ready (not to mention Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad coming along in the lower minors) then it makes a lot of sense to move on.
Similarly, a deal involving Trey Mancini could equally impact Stowers. Although a mutual option for 2023 is available to the O’s and Mancini, it is highly unlikely it gets agreed to, so a trade to a contender in the next month or so seems likely. If both Santander and Mancini were gone, there would be an awful lot of DH and corner outfield at-bats to go around. Stowers is almost assured to get the lion’s share of them.
The way in which the Orioles are planning to give Stowers a debut is interesting, though. As mentioned, this would seem to be a four-game cameo prior to a quick demotion back to Norfolk.
As a member of the taxi squad, Stowers does not have to be added to the full 40-man roster, but he would have to be added if the team intends to play him. That requires a complementary move to make space. This is something the team has hesitated to do in the past unless absolutely necessary. They could limp through this series with some combination of Ryan McKenna, Trey Mancini, or Tyler Nevin absorbing Santander’s outfield innings if they wanted. Instead, getting Stowers a taste of big league baseball seems to be the priority here.
As far as immediate expectations go, they should be tempered. Rookies across baseball have been slow out of the gate, including the Orioles’ own Rutschman and Kyle Bradish. Perhaps that is what contributes to the front office’s plans here. Get Stowers a taste early so that he isn’t entirely shocked when he gets the full-time call-up later this summer.
It’s a fun circumstance to consider the best way to deploy a fun, young player rather than just dreaming about it. And it is a continuation of what the Orioles have done this summer. Bradish and Rutschman are turning into the experienced vets as they are joined by a cavalcade of fellow rookies. Stowers is up next, and it shouldn’t be long before the likes of DL Hall, Jordan Westburg, and others follow behind.